Mozart: Sinfonia concertante in E flat major, K.364
By: Peter Larsen
August 17, 2016
This remarkably attractive work was composed in 1789 while Mozart, aged twenty-three, was touring various European cities, including Paris and Mannheim. In Mannheim he would have had the opportunity to hear the famous orchestra at the court of the Elector of Mannheim, notable for its inclusion of clarinets, which were not part of the Salzburg orchestra and which impressed Mozart greatly.
The work is scored for solo violin, solo viola, two horns and strings. The orchestral violas are divided into two parts, which increases the richness of sound. The solo viola part is written a semitone below the actual key, which necessitates tuning the instrument up a semitone; the result is enhanced tonal brilliance.
" The relationship between the solo instruments is at times so intimate as to generate a sense approaching restrained ecstasy"
The first movement opens with emphatic repetition of chords, followed immediately by syncopated rhythm for strings with oboe. A steady rhythm underpins ‘conversation’ between wind and strings. A vigorous orchestral passage with oboe, pizzicato strings, much trilling and notably, two horns, leads to close interaction between solo violin and viola, alternating with the emphatic chords. A lyrical second main idea is succeeded by a leaping theme, presented by the violin and taken up by the viola. A spirited, forward-thrusting orchestral passage, with much syncopation, acts as a bridge to two separate, serene ideas. A motif for the two horns signifies the commencement of a brief developmental section, preceding a recall of the early part of the movement, including the emphatic chords and the memorable ‘leaping’ theme. A brief cadenza, by Mozart himself, follows. It includes close, spirited interaction between violin and viola and passages of sequential thirds. The orchestra returns; a vigorous coda ends the movement.
The second movement opens with a song-like theme, accompanied by sustained horns. This theme is immediately adopted by the solo violin, then the viola. With occasional orchestral interludes and a steady accompanying pulse there follows close communication between the two soloists, each phrase generating a response. The relationship between the solo instruments is at times so intimate as to generate a sense approaching restrained ecstasy. This sense is especially noticeable near the end of the movement. A horn note signifies the beginning of a richly orchestrated coda. A cadenza, again by the composer, followed by a short reference to the opening idea, concludes the movement.
The third movement, a rondo, opens with sparkling themes presented by strings, horns and oboes. The writing for horns is particularly fine. The string soloists enter with a vigorous idea featuring ‘snap’ rhythms and brief phrases presented antiphonally, sometimes canonically and sometimes with counter themes. The main idea, in modified form, returns, now with the viola ahead of the violin. A change to the minor mode precedes a recall of the main theme, at times with small changes, but still with the familiar ‘statement and reply’ format. A return of the fine passage for horns marks the beginning of a short coda. The movement, and the whole work, ends briskly.
Peter Larsen is a 3MBS Presenter Emeritus. He presented Chamber Music and Song weekly for over two decades.