After an extended break due to Covid restrictions we finally met again. We began by listening to Mozart’s Horn Concerto No 4 played by Josef Dokupil with the Philharmonic Slavonica Orchestra.
Mozart’s Horn Concerto was written in 1796 for the Austrian horn player Joseph Leutgeb. At that time the natural Horns, ie without valves, were the only horns available. This meant that it was almost impossible to play the full chromatic series of notes. However, Leutgeb was an early pioneer of ‘hand stopping’ whereby the player places his hand in the bell of the instrument; this enabled the player to produce the complete chromatic scale. The pitch control is affected by the degree of closing the bell with the right hand. As the palm closes the bell , the effective tube length is increased, lowering the pitch up to about a semitone. That made it possible for Mozart to create the fluid melodic lines one hears in his horn concertos. Flanders and Swan recorded a well known skit on the third movement.
Staying with Mozart we next listened to the first movement of his quartet for piano, violin, viola and cello with Alfred Brendel. Mozart originally planned to write three such works but, after he finished the first piece in G minor, his publisher complained that the public found the work too difficult and plans for the complete series were abandoned. In the days before easy recordings much of the sales were of sheet music to be played in a domestic setting. He did in fact write a second quartet but for a different publisher.
We next heard a playlist of deliberately contrasting tracks. The theory being that listening to unexpected pieces increased one’s concentration by not knowing what to expect next. The first item was the third movement of Elgar’s cello concerto played by Jacqueline du Pré with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir John Barbirolli. This was followed by Maple Leaf Rag by Scott Joplin played by David Zimmerman. The final item was again by Elgar, Serenade for String Orchestra, played by the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Andrew Davis.
After that we heard the second and third movements of Haydyn’s cello concerto No 1. It was written around 1761 to 1765 for Joseph Franz Weigl, the principal cellist of Prince Nicholas Esterházy’s Orchestra. The score was thought to have been lost, although the existence of the piece was known from records kept by Haydn. It was rediscovered in 1961 in the archives of the Prague National Museum by Oldrich Pulkert and is now one of the staples of the cello repertoire. The version we heard was played by Jacqueline du Pré with the London Symphony Orchestra conduced by Sir John Barbirolli.
We finished the afternoon with Beethoven’s seventh symphony played by the Berliner Philharmonica conducted by Herbert von Karajan. It must be said that Beethoven was not Napoleon’s greatest fan and this symphony, along with the third and the fifth were a sort of musical confrontation with the Emperor. It was written whilst Napoleon was planning his ill fated adventure into Russia and had its first performance in December 1813 at the University of Vienna with the composer conducting. The premier was a charity concert in aid of the soldiers wounded in the Battle of Hanau. This was a minor battle fought between Napoleon’s army retreating from Moscow and the coalition forces of Austria and Bavaria commanded by Count von Wrede who were attempting, unsuccessfully, to block his retreat through Frankfurt back to France. The piece was very well received at its premier so much so that the audience demanded an encore of the second movement, presumably the audience applauded between movements, a practice frowned upon today. Subsequent comments have been less complimentary with Sir Thomas Beecham reported as saying of the third movement “What can you do with it? It’s like a lot of yaks jumping about”.