Length: c. 27 minutes
Orchestration: 2 oboes, 2 horns, strings, solo flute and harp
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performance: January 4, 1936, Henry Svedrofsky conducting
About this Piece
Mozart’s disdain for the flute (“You know that I am quite powerless whenever I am obliged to write for an instrument which I cannot bear,” the composer wrote to his father from Mannheim in 1778), and his indifference to the harp, which he considered a very limited type of keyboard instrument, are both well chronicled. Nonetheless, in Mozart’s catalogue are not only two flute concertos and three flute quartets, but a Concerto for Flute and Harp, K. 299. The K. 299 Concerto was written in Paris in 1778 for the Duke de Guines, about whose flute playing Mozart had kind words, and the Duke’s daughter, who “plays the harp magnificently,” young Wolfgang wrote to his father.
Whatever negative feelings Mozart had about the two instruments (and about the daughter’s lack of ability as his composition student) were set aside when he put pen to paper, for the Concerto is utterly charming, a sterling example of enlightened salon music in which the composer’s individuality can be seen to be emerging. There are more melodies in the Concerto’s three conventional movements than one could possibly shake a flute at—not to speak of a harp—and the writing for the instruments is brilliant without being excessively virtuosic. The two (very French) instruments either converse good naturedly or take blithe solo turns accompanied discreetly by the other; and the orchestra, whose winds are pairs of oboes and horns, attends to its role effectively.
The first movement is particularly rich melodically; Mozart seemed quite unable to stop the flow of song, so that melodies fairly step on each other’s heels. In the main section, all is sweetness and light, whereas the development turns bittersweet in its minor-keyed pensiveness. The Andantino second movement is a gracious serenade in its scoring for strings only as accompaniment for the solo instruments. The give and take of flute and harp make for as harmonious and agreeable a collaboration as can possibly be imagined. This is the Mozart of the secret, romantic garden—not an exalted place, to be sure, but delicious indeed.
The Rondo finale is as vivacious as the preceding movement is dreamy. An extended orchestral opening has as its main idea a melody reminiscent of the main theme of the like movement of the Piano Sonata in A minor, K. 310, written, like the Concerto, in Paris in 1778. When the soloists enter, they present new material, and in fact do not deal with the orchestra’s opening theme until considerably later. It is a fairly lengthy movement, in which disarming invention, endless charm, and soloistic interplay constitute a Mozart message very well worth tuning in on.