04 Jan 2024

MOZART: Violin Concerto No. 3

by Jeff Counts

THE COMPOSER – WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART (1756-1791) – Mozart was 19 years old when his 3rd violin concerto premiered in his native Salzburg. He was employed there as a court musician and, though his time as the Salzburg assistant concertmaster was not notable for its professional fulfillment, Mozart was already enjoying a great deal of notoriety as a composer of symphonies, operas, string quartets and sonatas. As prolific as he would become in the composition of piano concerti (twenty-seven in total by the time he was done), Mozart wrote only five for the violin, all over the course of a single year in 1775 (with the possible exception of the 1st which some scholars date in 1773).   

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

THE HISTORY – History recalls Mozart so fondly as a pianist that we often forget he was also a suburb violinist. He began his string studies at the age of six and performed a concerto just one year later for the birthday celebration of the Archbishop of Salzburg. In an interesting bit of symmetry, and perhaps a lost opportunity, it may well have been his violin playing that earned him employment in the court of a later Salzburg Archbishop. This was the one and only Count Hieronymus Colloredo. Colloredo himself was a violinist of a sort but, even with that point of mutual interest, theirs was not to be a comfortable relationship. Young Mozart’s ambitions came off at petulance to Colloredo and the Count’s need to control his court closely was stifling for the composer. It is lucky that the handful of violin concerti Mozart wrote during that tough period show none of the vocational discomfort he endured, but we are nonetheless free to assume that the end of his job in the Salzburg court and the end of his association with the violin as a performer were directly linked. In fact, records of his possessions at the time of his death in 1791 show that he no longer even owned one. It was instead the viola that brought him joy as a string musician in the last years of his life, whenever the opportunity to perform non-keyboard chamber music with friends and colleagues presented itself. Very little is known about the premiere of the lovely and perky 3rd Concerto and, though he perhaps wrote all five of the concerti for Gaetano Brunetti, it is possible the composer appeared as soloist. Whether or not Mozart did perform the piece himself, the cadenzas from that premiere concert are, like so many 18th century things, lost to time. Thankfully, Mozart’s affection for the violin and his intimate understanding of its virtuosic potential are not. He wrote his father later about Concerto No. 3 and referred to it as his “Strasbourg Concerto”. He was referencing an Alsatian tune in the finale, but don’t know why he used it in this piece. Again, lost to time.      

THE WORLD – Elsewhere in 1775, Paul Revere made his famous ride at the beginning of the American Revolutionary War, Angelo Braschi was chosen as Pope Pius VI and explorer James Cook would return from his historic voyage to the Antarctic.

THE CONNECTION – Utah Symphony has presented Mozart’s 3rd Violin Concerto many times over the years, most recently in April 2011 with Karen Gomyo as soloist and Gerard Schwarz on the podium.