Mozart’s Horn Concerto No. 2 and No. 4 are beloved by horn players. Can you share what makes them so special to you?
I am very much looking forward to coming to Redlands to play two wonderful Mozart horn concertos that are dear to my heart. Out of the four concertos, these two, No. 2 and No. 4, were written in the prime of Mozart’s life and also of the protagonist for whom they were written, Joseph Leutgeb. This is evident, as they have more virtuosity than the other two concerti and contain more high notes! Interestingly enough, Mozart’s concerto No. 1 was written last and was actually uncompleted at the time of his death.
The music itself is sublime, in the traditional form. But Mozart also managed to utilize Leutgeb’s incredible skill of bending the natural harmonics by using his hand in the bell of the horn to create more notes that didn’t exist. (There were no valves in Mozart’s day, just a long piece of tubing that contained only the natural harmonic series.) Thus, Mozart could write proper tunes for the horn other than fanfares, and create some of the world’s finest melodies.
As a horn player, I consider myself so fortunate that Mozart’s output for the horn was so extensive! The last movement of each of his concerti follows the rondo form, and was most certainly inspired by hearing the buglers and horn calls of the hunt. The energy is prevalent right through to the end, and they never fail to raise a smile on everyone’s lips.
What is one of your most memorable performances?
I was playing the hauntingly beautiful Serenade for Tenor, Horn, and Strings by Benjamin Britten. The performance was in Shanghai, China, and requires the horn player to walk offstage during the performance and play an Epilogue from afar.
I found a quiet corridor and started playing.
To my absolute horror, a Chinese security guard, armed and in full uniform, ran at me down the corridor shouting at me to stop! If it weren’t for a member of quick-thinking management literally tackling him and pinning him to the wall, this epilogue surely would have been my swansong.
What is one of the most bizarre performances you’ve ever experienced?
Traditionally, one is expected to write one’s own cadenza when performing a concerto, or at least use one composed by one of the “greats” of the instrument. I like to vary this approach from time to time, and sometimes even introduce a small quote from another of Mozart’s works.
This backfired spectacularly in a concert quite recently. Halfway through the cadenza I used a small bridging passage and thought I’d have fun by playing a tiny snippet of Mozart’s Symphony No. 40. There follows a natural pause, when someone sitting near the front blurted out, “very droll!”.. in a bored manner. This led to a ripple of laughter from the audience. NOT the effect I was looking for!
What are some of your favorite pieces to play featuring the horn?
These unfortunate moments aside, playing the horn is a joyous occupation, and we are lucky to have some glorious repertoire to accompany us. Aside from the Mozart Concerti and Britten Serenade, Richard Strauss wrote two wonderful concertos, a full 60 years apart — one at the very beginning of his career, one near the end of his life. It is fascinating to compare the young man full of youth to the old man’s experience and knowledge.
For more recent compositions, I have to turn to a wonderful composer, Oliver Knussen. He was a dear friend who sadly passed away only a couple of years ago, but left the world with a small but stunning collection of music. His horn concerto is arguably the finest of his output and is full of the wilds of nature and weather of his beloved homeland of Aldeburgh, England.