Archive for October 7th, 2013

A Non-Horn Player’s Guide to the Mozart Horn Concertos

Well, that second post I mentioned yesterday never happened. Ah well. Anyway, recently I’ve realized that I haven’t posted very much in the Music category on this blog, not counting the I’ve Been Listening To… posts. So I wanted to change that.

As horn players, the four Mozart Horn concertos are a staple in our solo repertoire. In the four-year cycle of audition pieces for the Districts festivals at home, two years were movements from the 1st and 3rd were used, and two movements from the 2nd was my audition piece for All-States senior year. Many conservatories and professional orchestras require a movement or two from one of them, especially the 2nd or 4th. They’re pretty important. For horn players. Not many non-musicians (or even non-horn musicians) know much about them though. So I thought I’d share a little bit about them, because they’ve been so important in my life.

With the exception of the 1st (which was actually written last), each concerto consists of three movements: an Allegro (fast, but not too fast) first movement, a slower Romanze (what it sounds like) second movement, and a Rondo (round) in 6/8 that is loosely based on hunting calls. The 1st concerto skips the Romanze, and only has an Allegro and a Rondo. The first movement is typically the most difficult, with the widest range and the most technical passages of the piece. While the Rondo may be faster and have some technical parts to it as well, they are based on arpeggios, which are a little easier, and are probably the most fun to listen to or play. The Romanze is by far the easiest technically, but is difficult with some longer sustained sections that need to be played beautifully. Anything else, and it sounds really bad. (I almost made an oboe joke here, but I didn’t think N, D or C would be too happy with me.)

The 1st and 3rd concertos are both easier than the other two. The 3rd gets a lot more recognition than the 1st, even though it may be the easier of the two. This may be because it is “complete” or because we are not sure that Mozart even wrote the 1st. Like I said above, the 1st is the only concerto that doesn’t have 3 movements and is also the only one written in the key of D rather than E flat, a more common key for horn concertos. Unfortunately I can’t think of anything else to write about it though. The 3rd is typically one of the first major pieces that young horn players begin working on. It isn’t easy, but relative to the 2nd and 4th, as well as concertos by other composers (ahem, Strauss), it is a piece of cake. It is the one I am most comfortable with, and have played movements from it for several auditions. I also got to perform the first movement my senior year with one of the youth orchestras I played with. That was terrifying, not because of the music but because I had never played a solo for so many people (I don’t think, anyway).

My first experience with Mozart’s concertos was actually with the 2nd. Not having a preference about which movement or concerto I worked on first, my teacher chose to start me on the final movement of the 2nd concerto. We soon switched to the 1st because that was the District’s audition that year, but that movement is still one of my favorite. The first movement is really hard, with several technical passages higher in the range of the horn, so I didn’t work on that at all until this past spring, looking ahead to auditions for groups here in college. About at the same difficulty level is the 4th concerto, which I had to prepare for my All-States audition. With similarly high and technical sections, the first movement alone made it one of the most taxing pieces I’ve ever had to prepare. I also played the second movement, which I kept in my fingers and played again for arts supplements for college applications.

So, a quick recap: 1st – Easy, weird key, 2 movements, may not have been written by Mozart. 2nd – Hard, high technical parts in first movement, fun Rondo. 3rd – “Beginner” concerto, common audition piece for youth orchestras. 4th – Hard, first movement much like first movement of 2nd, beautiful second movement.

That’s about all I have to say about those for now. I need to go begin reviewing for my first chemistry test tomorrow night. I’m not really looking forward to it…

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