Mozart’s “Second Flute Concerto in D major” – Katie Shauberger

Section from Johann Nepomuk della Croce’s painting of the Mozart family. c. 1780 (Two years after composing the Second Flute Concerto in D Minor)

Section from Johann Nepomuk della Croce’s painting of the Mozart family. c. 1780 (Two years after composing the Second Flute Concerto in D Minor)

Typically, the concertos that Don Quijote writers cover are piano concertos. However, there is a beauty in Mozart’s Second Flute Concerto in D major, which cannot be ignored. The piece was written in 1778, when Mozart was twenty-two years old; it was composed for a solo flute, two oboes, two horns, and strings, and lasts twenty minutes for the three movements.

The concerto is based on Mozart’s own Oboe Concerto in C major, originally written for Giuseppe Ferlendis. The original work was adored and performed by Ferlendis at least five times at Salzburg within its first year. Later, Dutch flautist Ferdinand DeJean requested four quartets and three concertos (a heavy load for a significant amount of money). Mozart was running behind on the request, so he took the oboe concerto and reworked it to fit a solo flute.  During Mozart’s time, it was common to take works written for oboe and transcribe them for flute; however, when Jean received the work, he refused to pay for a piece that was not “original.” While the accusation was technically true, experts believe that Mozart did not simply transcribe the piece from C major to D major, but that the entire concerto was reshaped into the famous work we have today—a concerto that allows the performer to show off the best qualities of the flute in the perfect range. For this reason, the concerto is mesmerizing to study and to play.

The piece is set in three parts; the first is marked as allegro aperto. This marking was used exclusively by Mozart in his early works, and its meaning is not clear today. When playing the piece, I would assume Mozart intended “open” or “exposed” from the Italian “aperto” because the work gives plenty of room for showcase, but none for error. The first movement begins with the introduction of the primary motif, bright and fast paced; the orchestra creates a scene in which the flute leaps into, declaring its presence. After a second theme is established, the work moves into a solo exposition where there is a forte/piano dynamic. The dynamics of this solo are important because the transverse flute’s ability to play this ornamental dynamic is what brought the instrument supremacy over the recorder. The movement then reestablishes the themes before moving into a coda with a solo cadenza by the flute.  For someone who hasn’t studied music, a cadenza is a section where the solo performer is either given a suggested passage or allowed to improvise in a “free” rhythmic style: for a flautist, the showier the better. Because of this transition into the second movement, performers are able to play the first movement by itself but still end with triumph. This entire movement is similar to a comedic dialogue, with the flute hopping on and off the beat dramatically in response to itself before settling the argument with a final elegant outburst.

This 18th-Century cartoon allegedly depicts Giuseppe Ferlendis, the oboist from whose previous commission the Second Concerto was adapted for the flute.

This 18th-Century cartoon allegedly depicts Giuseppe Ferlendis, the oboist from whose previous commission the Second Concerto was adapted for the flute.

The second movement is slower, adagio non troppo, meaning “not too slow.” This movement I find to be the most genius of the concerto, an elegant aria set at the perfect range for a flute to sing out the held notes. There are also plenty of optional ornamentals that allow for a personalization of the section.  There is a special emphasis upon extended turns and appoggiaturas, or ornamental accents played right on the beat before the main note sounds. The picture received by the audience should be scenic, pulling up goose-bumps with every trill. The entire concerto is light, but this section is exceptionally so; when played correctly, the flute’s voice should float above the orchestra and roll gently into the third movement, the rondo.

This third and final movement is set at a moderately quick pace, allegretto, in 2/4 meter. While the speed is not daunting, the rhythm of the piece requires the performer to play at the front of the beat, lunging into the next phrase vivaciously as if leading a dance, which is characteristic of a classical rondo. The themes of the first movement are repeated and expounded upon to create a three-part counter point following a clear ABACA pattern and coda. This movement is a celebration, and the finale pulls the themes together one last time for a quick, bright finish.

This concerto is quite popular to have within a flautist’s repertoire because it is a light and fast piece that allows expression and personalization. As with all of Mozart’s works, this concerto creates a tone of clarity, balance, and transparency for the audience, each a characteristic every flautist strives for within his or her performances.  Ironically, it is known that Mozart hated the flute. Concerning DeJean’s order, Mozart wrote an excuse to his father for the incompletion, “You know how laggard I become when obliged to write for an instrument which I cannot bear.” But if that truly is the case, his laggardness does not mar this composition in the slightest. Mozart recreated a concerto that is exposing and challenging, lying perfectly within the range of the instrument. What more could a performer ask for?

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