Mozart’s oboe concerto was written in 1777, and scored for strings, 2 oboes, 2 horns, and oboe soloist. This orchestral formation makes for a lovely light sound and texture, slightly lighter than the Mozart Cosi Fan Tutte overture and substantially different to the Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique. The oboe of this classical period did not include the complex key systems used today but had developed different tapers from the earlier baroque period design. Likewise, the horns of the time were crooked in natural keys with no valves. The concerto was written for the oboist Giuseppe Ferlendis, who was 22 at the time, and held the post of oboist at the Court Chapel of Salzburg. Mozart at the time was 21, and also employed at Salzburg.
The piece is divided into three movements: 1. Allegro aperto (quickly & open) 2. Adagio ma non troppo (slow, but not too much) 3. Rondo: Allegretto (A recurring theme: in a moderately quick tempo). The first and last movements are in the key of C, with the middle movement being in a contrasting key of F, running for approximately 20 minutes in total. In September 1777, the month he finished the concerto, Mozart left his job as concertmaster to the archbishop of Salzburg. In Mannheim that winter, he gave the score of the new oboe concerto to Friedrich Ramm, the oboist of the Mannheim orchestra. By February, Ramm had already performed it five times, and Mozart reported that it was “making a great sensation” there. After Mozart returned to Salzburg in January 1779, we hear about the oboe concerto just one more time. In 1783, Anton Meyer, the oboist in the Esterháza orchestra, offered Mozart three ducats for the piece, and a new set of parts was sent to him. Then, the concerto vanished. Eventually, musicians reluctantly began to include it in the list of major pieces by Mozart that were lost.
In 1920, Mozart scholar Bernhard Paumgartner, who was director of the Salzburg Mozarteum Archives, discovered a package of old orchestral parts. The bass part was marked “Concerto in C/Oboe Principale” followed by Mozart’s name. When Paumgartner recognized the music, however, as the familiar flute concerto in D major, the one flutists had long counted as the second of Mozart’s two concertos, a 137-year-old mystery began to unravel. Apparently, sometime during the winter of 1777-78, Mozart had made an arrangement of the oboe concerto in order to make fast work of a commission for the amateur flutist Ferdinand de Jean, possibly passing the recycled work off as brand new.
By exposing Mozart’s “recycling”, Paumgartner’s find handed oboists a wonderful concerto they had never expected to play.
Terry Leese, French Horn