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The mystery surrounding Mozart’s five completed violin concertos concerns the occasions and performers for which they were intended. Mozart could have created them for his own performance, and he did play some if not all of them in public. Neal Zaslaw, in The Compleat Mozart, an invaluable guide to the composer’s works, reminds us that “the most common setting for [the performance of] violin concertos in Austria and Northern Italy was in church, where they embellished the Mass or Vespers service. Giuseppe Tartini and many other great violinists of the period frequently reached the general public by church performances, and this tradition was known to Mozart too.” Imagine then this scenario: the violinist Wolfgang Mozart “embellishing” one of his Masses with one of his violin concertos. Far-fetched?
It is stated in some of the older Mozart studies that the five concertos could have been written for Antonio Brunetti, and it has been confirmed that he played them, but not as their dedicatee. Brunetti was not known to Mozart until 1776, when he arrived in Salzburg to take over his position in the archiepiscopal court orchestra. Since any scrap of Mozart information is grist for the scholarly mill – and the possibility of a revelatory paper presented at a musicological conference – it has been suggested that the concertos were intended for another well-regarded Salzburg violinist, Franz Xaver Kolb, who is known to have played the first concerto, K. 207, in 1777. But a more intimate connection between Kolb and that or any other Mozart concerto remains unsubstantiated.
Four of the five violin concertos were written in 1775, when the composer was eighteen. The first concerto may have been written in 1773, but as with virtually anything related to these concertos, no definitive proof has been offered. K. 207 is notably witty in its outer movements while its Adagio offers the prototype of the poignant opera aria senza voce that would later become a hallmark of the Mozart concerto, whatever the solo instrument.
The second concerto, K. 211 in D major, is at once a more stately and milder piece: the composer would seem to be reflecting on the galant style encountered during his childhood travels in France, but with some “modern” effects, such as the chromatic touches in the opening movement that render it more “advanced” than its predecessor. The slow movement of K. 211 is regally graceful and undramatic – not a trace of doubt or sadness clouding its surface; while the finale, which the composer labeled “Rondeau” (note the French spelling), is a lively canter, as differentiated from the heedlessly galloping finale of the earlier concerto, with the rondeau theme stated three times and considerable virtuosity demanded of the soloist.
After serving on the administrative staffs of the New York Philharmonic and San Francisco Opera, followed by a long-term relationship with the Los Angeles Times as a critic/columnist, Herbert Glass has for the past decade-plus been English-language annotator and editor for the Salzburg Festival.