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Music In The Seventeenth And Eighteenth Centuries


CHAPTER 11 The Composer’s Voice
Richard Taruskin

Despite Haydn’s unprecedented achievements in the realm of instrumental music, his catalogue contains a notable gap. His output of concertos is relatively insignificant. Only two or three dozen works of that kind are securely attributed to him, which may sound prolific enough until his hundred-plus symphonies and eighty-plus quartets are set beside them. Nor are they of a quality to stand comparison with those better-known works. Among them are a couple of perky little items that still figure occasionally on concert programs: a harpsichord concerto in D major and an unusual one in E♭ for “clarino” (that is, trumpet played high), composed in London in 1796.

His two cello concertos, especially the rather lengthy one in D major composed in 1783 for Anton Kraft, the solo cellist in Prince Esterházy’s orchestra (and once attributed to him), are played, some would suggest, more often than they deserve since today’s virtuoso cellists have hardly any “classical” concertos in their repertory. The D-major concerto originally won its place in the modern concert hall thanks to a modernized arrangement by the Belgian music scholar François-Auguste Gevaert; its only “classical” counterpart in the cello repertory, a concerto in B♭ by Luigi Boccherini (1743–1805), was likewise popularized in an arrangement by the cellist Friedrich Grützmacher. It says a lot about Haydn’s concertos that they have needed editorial modernization in order to reenter the modern repertory, while his late symphonies, never modernized, have never gone out of style.

The “Symphonic” Concerto Is Born

fig. 11-2 Lira organizzata, for which Haydn wrote a set of concertos (Bèdos de Celles, L’art du facteur d’orgues, 1778).

Few but students play Haydn’s four violin concertos any more, and a fair number of Haydn concertos are for instruments that nobody (well, hardly anybody) plays at all any more. Besides two concertos for Prince Nikolaus Esterházy’s beloved baryton, there are five for a pair of lire organizzate, weird hybrid instruments resembling hurdy-gurdies, activated by turning a crank but equipped on the inside with organ pipes and miniature bellows along with (or instead of) the usual violin strings. Haydn’s output for lira organizzata (including several “notturni” or serenades in addition to the concertos) were written quite late in his career, between 1786 and 1794, on commission from Ferdinand IV, King of Naples, an enthusiast of the improbable contraption.

From this inventory of miscellaneous and rather perfunctory minor works a couple of important facts emerge. As the baryton and lira items suggest, Haydn’s concertos were written to order, as the sometimes unpredictable occasion arose, and had little or nothing to do with the composer’s personal predilections. Never once, moreover, did Haydn envision himself as the soloist in any of his concertos. He was not a virtuoso on any instrument, although he could function creditably as an ensemble violinist or a keyboard accompanist.

The situation with Mozart could not have been more different. His concertos were arguably the most vital and important portion of his instrumental output. Not only do they bulk larger in his catalogue, their total roughly equaling that of the symphonies, they also include some of his most original and influential work. As a result, Mozart’s standing as a concerto composer is comparable to Haydn’s in the realm of the symphony: he completely transformed the genre and provided the model on which all future concerto-writing depended. And that is largely because Mozart, as celebrated a performing virtuoso as he was a creative artist, was his own intended soloist—not only in his twenty-seven piano concertos but in his half-dozen violin concertos as well.

Mozart’s earliest concertos were written at the age of eleven (at Salzburg in the spring and summer of 1767), for use as display pieces in his early tours as a child prodigy. They are not entirely original works but arrangements for harpsichord and small orchestra (oboes, horns, and strings) of sonata movements by several established composers including C. P. E. Bach and Hermann Friedrich Raupach, whom the seven-year-old Mozart had met in Paris during a five-month stay in 1763–64, his first tour abroad. A few years later, when he was sixteen, Mozart made similar touring arrangements of three sonatas by J. C. Bach, whom he had got to know well in London in 1765. These were scored for a really minimal band (two violins and bass) for which Mozart composed ritornellos to alternate phrase-by-phrase with the originals. These pieces may not amount to much, but they did set the tone for Mozart’s lifetime output of concertos written for his own concert use.

Mozart’s first entirely original piano concerto (now known as “No. 5” and listed in the Köchel catalogue as K. 175) was written back home in Salzburg in December 1773, shortly before the composer’s eighteenth birthday. (He was still playing it in 1782, when he furnished it with a new finale for a concert in Vienna.) For the next two years, however, Mozart concentrated on the violin. His father, himself a famous violinist, encouraged him with the promise that if he applied himself, he could become the greatest violinist in Europe. As if to give himself an incentive to practice, Mozart composed five violin concertos between April and December 1775, as well as a curious piece he called “Concertone” (an invented word meaning “great big concerto”) for two violins and orchestra, which he composed, perhaps to perform with his father, in May 1774.

Mozart never did become the greatest violinist in Europe, but his brash and entertaining violin concertos of 1775, composed at the age of nineteen, were nevertheless a watershed in his career. In them he began to combine the older ritornello form inherited from the concerto grosso with the idiosyncratic, highly contrasted thematic “dramaturgy” of the contemporary symphony, itself heavily indebted for its verve and variety to the comic opera. Out of this eclectic mixture came the concerto style that Mozart made his trademark.

The Salzburg violin concertos are light and witty works in the serenade or divertimento mold. The third (in G, K. 216) and fourth (in D, K. 218) are virtually identical in form. They begin with bright allegros in an expanded ritornello form; their middle movements are lyrical “arias” (actually marked cantabile—“songfully”—in no. 4) in which the soloist takes the lead throughout; and their finales, titled “rondeau” in the French manner, are dancelike compositions in which the most variegated episodes alternate playfully with a refrain. In no. 3 the refrain is in a lilting characteristic of the genre, but one of its episodes is a little march (preceded by an Andante in the minor). In no. 4 the recurrent tune itself alternates phrases in with phrases in . This prankishly exaggerated heterogeneity—a Mozartean trademark!—lends these concluding movements something resembling the character of an opera buffa finale.

The “Symphonic” Concerto Is Born

ex. 11-2a W. A. Mozart, Violin Concerto no. 5, K. 219, I, mm. 1–9

The fifth violin concerto (in A, K. 219) carries this comic opera effect to an extreme. Its finale, though not explicitly labeled “rondeau” since it has only one episode (resulting in the equally operatic da capo form), is an even wilder motley than its predecessors. The outer sections embody a gracious dancelike refrain in time marked “Tempo di Menuetto,” while the middle of the piece consists of a riotous march or “quick-step” in the parallel minor, cast unexpectedly in the “alla turca” or “janissary” mode we have already encountered in The Abduction from the Seraglio, Mozart’s boisterous singspiel of 1782. (Osmin’s rage aria from that opera, we may recall, is also in A minor, as is the famous “Rondo alla turca” finale from the piano sonata, K. 331; it was Mozart’s “Turkish” key, and the fifth violin concerto is sometimes called the “Turkish” concerto.) The concerto’s first movement opens with a droll sendup of the Mannheim orchestra’s flashy routines, which Mozart had not yet actually heard on location, but which were avidly imitated, as we have seen, at the Parisian Concert Spirituel, which he did most enthusiastically attend as a boy. After a cheeky premier coup d’archet (“first stroke of the bow”) comes a pair of “Mannheim rockets”—lithe arpeggios in the violins that rise to little sonic outbursts in mm. 5 and 9 (Ex. 11-2a). Thereafter the mood of this opening tutti seems to change like the weather, in a manner again recalling descriptions of the Mannheim orchestra and the showpieces composed for it: pianissimos alternating with fortissimos, chromatic harmonies with primary chords, marchlike rhythms with syncopations, all leading to a concluding “tag” or fanfare on the tonic triad, arpeggiated all’unisono (Ex. 11-2b).

And now the soloist enters—with an altogether unexpected lyrical adagio that proceeds through a really purple harmonic patch (a deceptive cadence to an augmented-sixth chord) and reaches yet another full stop on the tonic. Only now does the movement really seem to get under way, and very wittily, with the violin playing the main theme over a repetition by the orchestra of its opening Mannheim flourishes, now revealed as a mere accompaniment to the real substance of the movement (hence the implied satire on what for the Mannheimers was the main event).

Thereafter the whole opening tutti passes in review—with the very telling exception that it is now expanded by means of solo interpolations, and with the quietest passage from the opening tutti now transposed to the dominant, thus taking on the characteristics of a “second theme” in a “sonata-form” or symphonic exposition. More solo passagework intervenes between this transposed passage and the next theme recalled from the opening tutti, thus giving the latter the character of a codetta closing off the exposition and leading—through an unexpectedly “far-out” V of iii—into what is obviously going to be a “development” section.

The “Symphonic” Concerto Is Born

ex. 11-2b W. A. Mozart, Violin Concerto no. 5, K. 219, I, mm. 37–41

The “Symphonic” Concerto Is Born

ex. 11-2c W. A. Mozart, Violin Concerto no. 5, K. 219, I, mm. 61–73

Of course there has already been a fair amount of thematic development in the exposition, chiefly involving the “tag,” which now comes twice—once in the tonic, to close off the “first theme,” and once in the dominant, to close off the “second.” The first time around (Ex. 11-2c), its final rising arpeggio is immediately appropriated by the soloist, who trades it oft with the orchestral basses three times, after which it goes into the orchestral first and second violins to accompany the modulation to the dominant. This merry interplay actually performs a subtle structural role: by initiating the exchange, the first rising bass arpeggio is simultaneously an ending (of the “tag”) and a beginning (of the modulation). Its ambiguous status, in other words, provides the phrase elision or “elided cadence” traditionally invoked to cover the structural joint where theme gives way to “bridge” or transition.

Here, in embryo, we have the so-called “double exposition” technique through which the concerto form was modernized in the age of the symphony. The first compositions in which the technique can be identified are found in a set of six keyboard concertos by J. C. Bach, published in London as his opus 1 in 1763. These, possibly along with the unpublished but widely circulated concertos of C. P. E. Bach, may be regarded as Mozart’s models. But although pioneered by the Bach brothers, the technique was used so consistently (and more to the point, varied so imaginatively) by Mozart, and became through him so influential, that since the end of the eighteenth century it has been thought of as the foundation of the “Mozartean” concerto style.

According to Heinrich Christoph Koch, the most encyclopedic music theorist and critic of the late eighteenth century, if one considers “Mozart’s masterpieces in this category of art works, one has an exact description of the characteristics of a good concerto.”10 And according to Carl Czerny, a pupil of Beethoven, who wrote the most influential music textbooks of the early nineteenth century, the form of the solo concerto had been expressly established by Mozart as a vehicle for representing the same kind of intense subjective feeling we have already observed in his symphonies.11 This simplified account of the concerto’s genealogy is obviously colored by the mythology that grows up around any great creative figure, but (as in any myth) its departures from the literal truth give insight into cultural values. Like all the other genres of the late eighteenth century, the concerto was formally transformed in order to serve new social purposes and meet new expressive demands.

In the first movement of a modernized (or “symphonicized,” or “Mozartean”) concerto, the opening or chestral ritornello and the first solo episode contain the same thematic material, but with three significant differences the second time around. First, and most obviously, the themes are redistributed between the soloist and the band. Second, they are often augmented by passages and, occasionally, by whole themes newly contributed by the soloist, and thereafter reserved for the solo part. Third, and most important by far, the second statement (and only the second one) will make the intensifying modulation to the dominant without which there can be no properly symphonic form.

These modifications amount, in effect, to a way of “dynamizing” the statically sectional ritornello form in which concertos were formerly cast by adding to it the closed (“there and back”) tonal trajectory of the symphonic binary form. It is true that even in a Vivaldi concerto the first ritornello stays in the tonic and the first solo moves out to the dominant (in the major). But the two sections in the earlier concerto did not share thematic material. It is the deployment of a similar melodic content toward crucially divergent ends that so dramatizes the symphonic concerto. By adding an element of overarching tonal drama to the form, Mozart’s concertos serve further to dramatize the relationship between the soloist and the accompanying (or, as the case may be, dominating) group.

The technique was not christened “double-exposition” until the end of the nineteenth century. (The actual term was coined by Ebenezer Prout, a prolific British writer of conservatory textbooks, in 1895.)12 But as early as 1793, only two years after Mozart’s death, Koch described the contemporary concerto in terms of its relationship to the symphony, and so it is by no means anachronistic to view it so today. Indeed, there is no other way to account for the dynamic, dramatic, and expressive resources now employed by the composers (who were often also the performers) of concertos. They all had their origin in the symphony; but it could be argued that they reached their peak of development somewhat earlier, in Mozart’s concertos.


(10) Heinrich Christoph Koch, Musikalisches Lexicon (Frankfurt am Main: A. Hermann der junger, 1802), col. 354.

(11) C. Czerny, Vollständiges Lehrbuch der musikalischen Composition, Vol. I (Vienna, 1834), p. 159; see Jane R. Stevens, “Theme, Harmony, and Texture in Classic-Romantic Descriptions of Concerto First-Movement Form,” JAMS XXVII (1974): 47.

(12) Ebenezer Prout, Applied Forms (London, 1895), pp. 203–4; quoted in Jane R. Stevens, “An Eighteenth-Century Description of Concerto First-Movement Form,” JAMS XXIV (1971): 85.

Citation (MLA):
Richard Taruskin. "Chapter 11 The Composer’s Voice." The Oxford History of Western Music. Oxford University Press. New York, USA. n.d. Web. 7 Oct. 2022. <https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume2/actrade-9780195384826-div1-11003.xml>.
Citation (APA):
Taruskin, R. (n.d.). Chapter 11 The Composer’s Voice. In Oxford University Press, Music In The Seventeenth And Eighteenth Centuries. New York, USA. Retrieved 7 Oct. 2022, from https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume2/actrade-9780195384826-div1-11003.xml
Citation (Chicago):
Richard Taruskin. "Chapter 11 The Composer’s Voice." In Music In The Seventeenth And Eighteenth Centuries, Oxford University Press. (New York, USA, n.d.). Retrieved 7 Oct. 2022, from https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume2/actrade-9780195384826-div1-11003.xml