By Allen Whear
The history of the horn is inextricably bound with the favourite pastime of the European aristocracy through the ages: hunting. The earliest horns were played on horseback and functioned as a necessary mode of communication between widespread hunting parties. The horn was held with one hand, freeing the other to hold the reins. At first, only single notes were possible, making rhythmic codes the essence of the signals. Over the centuries, the instrument was developed by lengthening and adding coils, increasing the range and melodic possibilities. By the time of Mozart, the use of changeable crooks and hand techniques gave the horn an unprecedented expressive range. Meanwhile, many of the horn calls that had developed in France by the reign of Louis XIV were codified by the likes of Philidor, Dampierre, and Morin, and eventually spread to Bohemia and German-speaking lands, where a separate tradition also developed. Hunting tunes appeared in baroque operas and were increasingly popular in chamber music as well. Generally speaking, French hunting tunes were in triple time and German ones in duple. In Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto no. 1 these traditions intersect.
Mozart’s Symphony no. 25, written at the age of seventeen, is remarkable for many reasons. It was his first in the rarely used minor mode, and because it shares its key of G minor with the more famous Symphony no. 40 (with which Tafelmusik opened this season) it is sometimes called the “Little” G minor. It is a bold entrée to the Sturm und Drang (Storm and Stress) style, musically identifiable by its heavy syncopation, dramatic gestures, and shock value. The Sturm und Drang movement originated in German literature, aiming to “frighten, to stun, to overcome with emotion.” It found a following in painting, and spread to music through opera, particularly in the work of Gluck, often depicting scenes of storms or heightened emotion. This symphony also highlights the wind instruments, as is clear right away from the oboe solo which is in complete contrast to the tumultuous opening. Four horns are paired in different tunings to expand the tonal possibilities in the symphony, and a little taste of wind Harmonie appears as in the Trio to the Menuetto.
We owe the existence of Mozart’s series of fine horn concertos to Josef Leutgeb, a virtuoso horn player and close family friend to the Mozarts. He had been a principal player in Salzburg before coming to Vienna to open a cheese shop, thus completing a strange resume, even for those times. Mozart, already well known for his practical jokes and scatological humour, seems to have delighted in targeting Leutgeb for pranks and insults. One incident involves Mozart spreading the orchestra parts for a new horn concerto all over his apartment and forcing Leutgeb — whom he affectionately addressed as “ass” or “simpleton”— to collect all the pages while crawling on his hands and knees. The Mozart biographer Maynard Soloman concludes that Leutgeb was complicit in these games, a “willing fool or court jester.” Leutgeb was undoubtedly a master of the horn, and Mozart made full use of his advanced technique, which involved hand-stopping to increase the number of notes available. Mozart’s catalogue entry for June 26, 1786 lists “Ein Waldhorn Konzert für den Leutgeb” (a hunting horn concerto for Leutgeb). The hunting mode is obvious in the finale, a Rondo. Many listeners will find it difficult to hear this delightful movement without remembering the humorous text set to it by Flanders and Swann entitled “Ill Wind.”
I once had a whim and I had to obey it
To buy a French Horn in a second-hand shop;
I polished it up and I started to play it
In spite of the neighbours who begged me to stop.
To sound my Horn, I had to develop my embouchure;
I found my Horn was a bit of a devil to play.
So artfully wound
To give you a sound,
A beautiful sound so rich and round.
Oh, the hours I had to spend
Before I mastered it in the end.
But that was yesterday and just today I looked in the usual place —
There was the case but the Horn itself was missing.
Oh, where can it have gone?
Haven't you—hasn't anyone seen my Horn?
Oh, where can it have gone?
What a blow! Now I know
I'm unable to play my Allegro.
Opening verses of Flanders & SwannIll Wind,
set to the tune of the last movement of Mozart’s Horn Concerto in E-flat Major.
Joseph Martin Kraus was a poet and composer highly respected in his day by his peers. Gluck considered him a man of “great style, the like of which I have found in no one else,” and Haydn praised his Symphony in C Minor, calling Kraus “of one of the greatest geniuses I have met.” Born and educated in Germany, Kraus spent the bulk of his career in Sweden. He was greatly influenced by the Sturm and Drang movement and the theatrical music of Gluck, clearly reflected in the dramatic and harmonic daring on display in this symphony, composed in Vienna in 1783.
In 1781 Haydn premiered a new opera for the freshly rebuilt opera house at Esterháza called La fedeltà permiata (Fidelity Rewarded). Nikolaus Esterházy was particularly fond of the work, and Haydn surprised his patron by using its overture as the finale to his newest symphony, furthering the compliment by acknowledging Nikolaus’ love of hunting. After a majestic introduction, the Allegro is a tightly constructed sonata-form movement based on a single, persistent motive. It may not be coincidental that this rhythm is the same as a French hunting call (three short notes, one long) that signaled the sighting of a stag.
The Andanteis musically connected to Haydn’s song Gegenliebe, Hob.XXVIa:16; it is not known for certain which came first. It shares its simple, folk-like quality with many other Haydn movements, notably the slow movement of the “Surprise” Symphony. Haydn scholar H.C. Robbins Landon opines that Haydn had a “lifetime preoccupation with 6/8 hunting music.” Examples abound in his output, culminating in the famous hunting scene in his oratorio The Seasons. This symphony’s finale, which gives the work its nickname, “La Chasse,” quotes a well-known hunting tune found in La Chasse du cerf by Jean-Baptiste Morin (1677-1745). The work ends quietly, a rare effect for a Haydn, found elsewhere only in his “Farewell” Symphony.