Mozart Violin Concerto No. 4 Program Notes
Many musicians (and their parents) can relate to this exchange between Leopold Mozart and his 21-year-old son, Wolfgang, in a letter from 1777. “Did you not practice the violin at all while you were in Munich? I dare say that would be really deplorable, particularly since Brunetti praised you to the skies!” Two weeks later, Mozart countered that his most recent solo performance “…went like oil [smoothly]. Everyone praised my beautiful, pure tone.”
Antonio Brunetti was a violinist from Naples who took over the job as Court Music Director in Salzburg when Mozart quit to pursue his fortunes elsewhere. Brunetti, first described by Mozart as a friend but later disparaged by him as “a disgrace to his profession, coarse and dirty, ” had good reason to be pleased with Mozart. The five violin concertos, which were composed in 1775 when Mozart was nineteen, were now his to present to the audiences of Salzburg. It is not known for sure whether Mozart composed the concertos for himself or for Brunetti, who was considered a superior violin player. The technical difficulty of the fourth and fifth concertos, several subsequent revisions Mozart made, and comments in some of Mozart’s letters have led many musicologists to conclude that they were, in fact, written for Brunetti.
The Fourth Concerto begins with march-like or fanfare-like rhythm, used with great effect in pieces composed for the virtuosic orchestra in Mannheim, which Mozart visited several times. A simple foundation, the first theme allows the soloist acrobatic arpeggios and runs. A second theme is more romantic and lyrical.
Mozart’s music is infused with an operatic sensibility—his instrumental music especially. The second movement is aria-like. In its first theme, Mozart exploits the tension of the half-step (or semitone). If this piece were an aria with words, perhaps it would alternate between the sorrows and the joys of love.
The concerto’s finale is rustic in mood. Mozart calls it Rondeau, the French spelling of Rondo, with the first melody a simple dance tune. The second returning melody is jig-like, with a 6/8 meter. Another episode, with a simple duplet rhythm, includes the droning of the violinist’s lowest string underneath the melodic line. This effect evokes the hurdy-gurdy, a hand-cranked folk-instrument that has drone strings. At the very end of the movement, the jig-like melody fades away in a diminuendo, as if we are leaving the party to go out into the night.