The Hunt is On!
Composers often find inspiration for the concertos they write from the instrumentalists they befriend. Witness the four horn concertos of Wolfgang Mozart (1756-1791), which are impossible to envision without his close friendship with horn player Joseph Leutgeb (1732-1811). Contemporary press reports concerning Leutgeb's artistry attest to a great and innovative talent-attributes Mozart explored fully in these concertos wherein solo passages present a considerable challenge to the soloist.
In the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra's next concert, William Barnewitz is the soloist for two of the Mozart horn concertos. The two-movement Horn Concerto No. 1 in D Major, K. 412 was actually the last to be composed and, in fact, was finished by Mozart's student Franz Süssmayr (1766-1803) after Mozart's death. Horn Concerto No. 3 in E-Flat Major, K. 447 (1783) is in the usual three-movement form, with an opening Allegro, a slow movement Romance and a concluding Allegro possessive of hunting horn calls.
The image of the hunt made its way into the Symphony No. 73 in D Major of Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) as well. The Presto finale, in fact, was given the title La Chasse (The Hunt), which eventually became the entire symphony's name. Haydn built this symphony on two elements-the Andante second movement is based upon an earlier song of his (Gegenliebe), and the aforementioned hunting finale was originally the overture to his opera La Fedeltà Premiata.
Building upon earlier works is certainly nothing new to composers; indeed, a century later we find French Impressionist composer Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) doing much the same. Though Ravel remained a bachelor and childless his whole life, he had a great fondness for children, evidenced in part by a set of simple piano works he composed based on the Mother Goose fairy tale. The music was so well received that he eventually fleshed it out into a fully orchestrated ballet score set to his own scenario. The work in its final form consists of a Prelude, five "Tableaux" and an Apotheosis. As such, it premiered in Paris as Ma Mère l'Oye on Jan. 28, 1912. The orchestration is colorful and evocative, sometimes quiet, often very pretty, ending in a powerful climax.
In 1919, ballet master Serge Diaghilev requested a new work from Ravel for his Paris-based Ballets Russes. The composer responded with one of his most famous orchestral works, La ValseThe Waltz). As Ravel explained, the work is meant to depict "an immense hall peopled with a whirling crowdâ€¦ an imperial court, around 1855." Though Diaghilev pronounced it "a masterpiece," he did not think it appropriate for his troupe. Stung, Ravel would never speak to Diaghilev again. La Valse, happily, was published anyway in 1920 as a "poème choréographique." The lavishly scored and somewhat bittersweet post-World War I work finally displayed its full dance potential under George Balanchine in New York in 1951, but it has always remained a concert hall triumph. (
The MSO under Maestro Gilbert Varga performs these works of Mozart, Haydn and Ravel at Uihlein Hall on Jan. 16 and 17.