Mozart: Horn Concerto No. 3 in E-flat Major, K. 447
Written during the last ten years of his life, Mozart’s four celebrated horn concertos were the fruits of a lifelong friendship with virtuoso horn player Joseph Leutgeb, member of the Salzburg Court Orchestra. Inscriptions on many of Mozart’s works for Leutgeb reveal the jocular nature of their camaraderie, with the young composer often peppering his avuncular friend with good-natured insults.
Mozart’s Third Horn Concerto in E-flat Major, composed between 1783 and 1787, stands out among its companions. More serious in character, it strikes a compelling balance between drama and lyricism, coupled with the poised clarity of classical forms. The use of clarinets and bassoons in its instrumentation—rather than oboes and horns as in his other horn concertos—lends a richer tonal depth to the work, achieving an orchestral color both reflective and dignified.
Rather than being wholly free from jest, however, this concerto contains ample Mozartian wit in the form of thematic ingenuity. This includes a dexterous use of the second movement’s opening melody played at double speed in the third movement.
The concerto consists of three short, elegant movements that masterfully explore the full gamut of the horn’s expressive palette. It features a sonata-form first movement that confidently keeps the solo instrument in the spotlight, a second movement that sings with a noble, glowing warmth, and a jovial and sportive rondo finale—reminiscent of hunting tunes, the horn’s ancestral vocation—that ushers in an irresistible end to one of the most notable masterworks in the horn repertoire.
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