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Whatever Happened to the
"Sinfonia Concertante"?
by Daniel N. Leeson

Introduction: Music disappears from the repertoire faster than one thinks. And, once begun, the forces which cause works to fall from grace are inexorable. Tastes change; styles of music are subject to the whims of fashion; performance materials become unobtainable. Works cease to be played because their authenticity is challenged. Perhaps the most famous example of music so eclipsed is the 'Jena" Symphony, a work thought to have been written by Beethoven. But when it was shown to be a work of Friedrich Witt, it swiftly disappeared from the orchestral repertoire. A work previously praised for its Beethovenesque nobility and stature suddenly became harsh, coarse, and ugly.

For clarinetists, the loss of any repertoire is undesirable because we don't have a surfeit of good solo works to begin with. But how does one calculate the tragedy of the loss of a Mozart concerto?! For that is precisely what has happened to the work we have called "Mozart's 'Sinfonia Concertante' for clarinet, oboe, horn, bassoon, and orchestra, K. 297b." Two recent events have negatively affected the presence of this composition in the clarinetist's repertoire: 1) the publication of the work in that section of the Neue Mozart-Ausgabe devoted to "Works of Doubtful Authenticity"; 2) the publication and recording of an extraordinary new version of the work, one which supplies a remarkably different and highly imaginative orchestral accompaniment, eliminates the clarinet, and restores the solo music to Mozart's original instrumentation: flute, oboe, horn, and bassoon.

Only seven pieces of documentary evidence exist-five letters from Mozart to his father and two letters from the father to Wolfgang-which deal with his wind Sinfonia Concertante. (The term "wind" Sinfonia Concertante is used to distinguish this work from Mozart's "string" Sinfonia Concertante for violin and viola, K.364/ 320d.) Of these seven letters, three are particularly noteworthy. The first, sent from Paris and dated April 5, 1778-when he was 22-states Mozart's intention to write such a work, and explicitly names the solo instruments as well as the very players for whom he was writing the composition. There is no solo clarinet in the work, Mozart's composition being scored for flute, oboe, horn, bassoon, and orchestra. The players Mozart mentions were Johann Baptist Wendling (flute), Friedrich Ramm (oboe), Georg Wenzel Ritter (bassoon), all of whom were members of the Mannheim orchestra, and Johann Wenzel Stich, alias Giovanni Punto (horn), a freelance virtuoso and quite possibly the finest hornist who ever lived.

The second letter, also from Paris and dated May 1, speaks of plots and cabals which prevented performance of the work, a situation which Mozart maintained occurred frequently and a subject on which he was almost paranoid. In the same letter, he also mentions the critically important fact that performance parts were never copied out of the autograph (critically important because it eliminates the possibility of a later rediscovery of these same parts). Instead-and he relates this story to demonstrate to his father that he is not imagining all these plots and cabals-he found the autograph stuck in a pile of music in the office of the work's commissioner, Joseph LeGros, the administrative and artistic manager of the Parisian concert series which was to have presented the composition's premiere. The reason why the work was never presented is quite straightforward: Mozart had stepped on the ego of one of Paris's most successful composers, Giuseppe Maria Cambini, who, with very little effort, had Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante pulled and one of his own substituted. In effect, Mozart had tried to win a contest of influence and he was outgunned by a musical nonentity.

The third letter, sent from Nancy, France and dated October 3, is full of the bravado of the humiliated. Unceremoniously ejected from Paris and told to go home by his host, Mozart says in his letter that he has kept every note of the wind Sinfonia Concertante in his head and is capable of writing it out again when he gets back to Salzburg (the classic "I'll show those guys!" attitude of the badly embarrassed). The other four letters which refer to the Sinfonia Concertante, but which have neither been quoted nor described, are dated July 9 and July 18/20 (Wolfgang to Leopold) and May 12/20 and June 11 (Leopold to Wolfgang). Beyond these seven letters, there is no other known documentary evidence relating to this work. Neither the autograph score nor any shred of music positively identified as Mozart's wind Sinfonia Concertante has ever been found (and it's still being looked for, too). Knowledge of the work's existence-and thus its presence in the appendix of the 1862 Koechel catalogue where it is listed as "lost"-derives solely from these seven letters. Obviously, however, the story is not over even if presentation of the hard evidence is.

After the 1862 publication of the Koechel catalogue, a particular manuscript score came into the hands of the Mozart scholar, Otto Jahn. Found to be part of his estate after his death in 1869, this score-which has no attribution of any kind in it-is in the handwriting of a professional copyist, a person who prepared over 100 Mozart scores for Jahn (as well as scores of music of other composers, too). This work is a sinfonia concertante and is scored for clarinet, oboe, horn, bassoon, and orchestra. Jahn never publicly revealed anything about the origin of this score or who he thought its composer to be, though the fact that he went to the expense of having it copied out allows one to assume that he thought it was by Mozart. In any case, Jahn complicated the situation by perversely dying, leaving the question of the origin of this work unresolved to this day. It is the music of this Jahn score which has become synonymous with the Mozart Sinfonia Concertante. This conclusion was at first based on the fact that the cataloguer of Jahn's estate listed Mozart as the work's composer. Later, supporting public statements from musicologists, performers, and critics were based on the work's style and emotional content.

Before continuing with this strange story let me pause for a moment to dwell on the form of Mozart's work. What is a sinfonia concertante and why would Mozart have written one for Paris, of all places? The answer to these questions is a long one but it can be simply summarized: a sinfonia concertante is a concerto for multiple instruments and, in Paris of 1778, the form was all the rage. Mozart had an uncanny knack for exploiting the fashionable tastes in music. Whether he suggested to LeGros that he write such a work (most probable, though not obvious) or LeGros suggested it to him, the fact that he composed a sinfonia concertante-when one considers the various forms available to him-shows how remarkably practical Mozart was and how sensitively he judged the public's taste.

By the end of the first decade of the twentieth century, the music of this Jahn score had won general acceptance by the musicological community-and the performing community, tooas an unexplainable variant of Mozart's lost wind Sinfonia Concertante. And for the next 40 or so years one could read an ever-mounting crescendo of views on how this work had to be the one composed by Mozart. But the opinions put forth were just those: opinions. There was almost no objectivity in these statements, only emotion. (I'm not being critical here, just reportorial.) In the case of this interesting musical work, one reads of how "every note of the music breathes Mozart's divine spirit," or "there cannot be the slightest doubt that this is the music Mozart composed for Paris in 1778," or "clearly, Mozart had to have written this music since it is too good to be by anyone else." The problem with these statements is that they don't mean anything. It's the kind of double talk used by someone who has little objective data and cannot rationally defend a position. So-but with no desire to deliberately deceive-the conclusion is wrapped in the mantle of unassailable opinion. But the message that is really being transmitted is: "I'm an expert. As a consequence, my taste is refined and this allows me to conclude correctly on things of this nature."

After the Second World War, the tide began to go against Mozart's authorship of this wind Sinfonia Concertante. There are a number of objective and measurable things about the work which cannot be explained if one accepts as fact that Mozart wrote it. For example, in this composition the first solo exposition begins twice; that is, the soloists begin their exposition, play for a while, and then start this exposition all over again. Not only is this without precedent in all of Mozart's music, it is without precedent in all of classic form. Many other objective examples exist of things about this work which are measurably uncharacteristic of Mozart's compositional practices. Despite the attack on the work's authenticity a number of the older musicologists retained their early views (perhaps out of unwillingness to change, perhaps out of embarrassment, perhaps out of sincere belief in the validity of their position), but the young Turks went after the composition as a vulture goes after carrion. Suddenly what had been "Mozartean" (whatever that means) became "common" (whatever that means). You don't have to be for a work's authenticity to spout double talk. You can be against a work's authenticity and also speak fluent double talk. Several scholarly papers argued opposite points of view, some saying that the work was not by Mozart, others saying that it was. A paper jointly authored by Robert Levin and myself argued on statistical and structural grounds that the solo parts derived from a Mozart original while the orchestral accompaniment was by someone else and from a later period. A musicological conference held in Washington, D.C. to commemorate the opening of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts devoted itself in part to the question of this work's authenticity. The subject was studied at a 1971 conference in Salzburg. It was-and still is-a hot topic.

The most recent event having to do with this question-and perhaps the most influential to date-came with its publication in that section of the Neue Mozart-Ausgabe which deals with "Works of Doubtful Authenticity". In the volume containing this work, the editor summarizes the history of the debate and, without additional evidence, offers his own opinion (which is that the work is not genuine). This pronouncement, coming as it does in the most authoritative publication on Mozart since the Breitkopf & Hi rtel complete edition of 1877 (and perhaps the most authoritative such publication ever undertaken) gives an awesome importance to the utterance. Therefore, one could believe that there is now a sort of universal agreement in the scholarly community to reject the work from the body of Mozart's music. Not so! Report of the demise of the Sinfonia Concertante as a Mozart composition is premature (though I know of no contemporary Mozart scholar who accepts the work in its current state as being from Mozart's hand).

Approximately two years ago, Robert D. Levin-the same individual who effected such a remarkable completion of Mozart's fragmentary Quintet for clarinet in B-flat and string quartet, K. 516c, as published by Nagels Musik-Archivbegan a task which he calls "a reconstruction." The problem is that there really is no good word for the act of taking a work which is itself an arrangement and, as a tailor alters a suit, producing another work from it which can be described as a better approximation to the original than what one started with. Levin's objective was to recreate the original Mozart composition-the archetype of making a silk purse out of a sow's ear-by using the existing clarinet version to rebuild the original solo quartet of flute, oboe, horn, and bassoon. The task is far more complex than one might think at first blush and involves much more than a mere transposition of the clarinet part. For one thing, the clarinet occupies a different place than that of the flute in the solo instrumental choir. For another, to effectively accomplish such a transcription requires a radical redistribution of all four voices of the solo quartet. The effort can be contrasted with taking a house apart and reassembling it differently while using the same building materials, having neither too much nor too little left over, and producing a building recognizable as having been derived from its predecessor. Levin rewrote much of the orchestral material using the existing one as a guide. There are many who object to such an act on the fundamental principle that Mozart is best when left alone. But, in this case, such a view would ignore the fact that what we now have is a version which, in part at least, is almost certainly not by Mozart. Besides, failure to accept the workings of others within Mozart's music would eliminate many of the master's works from the general repertoire, not the least of which would be the Requiem, K. 626, a work completed after Mozart's death by Sussmayer and others.

How successful Levin has been remains to be determined by the listening public and the performing community. However, one will not have to wait too long before getting an opportunity to put his reconstruction to a test of the ear. It is being performed on both sides of the Atlantic and the recording on the Philips (Phonogram) label by The Academy of St. Martin's-in-theFields, Neville Marriner conducting, and soloists Aurele Nicolet (flute), Heinz Holliger (oboe), Hermann Baumann (horn), and Klaus Thunemann (bassoon). Recordings of the old version are plentiful and include performances by Barenboim (Angel), Boehm (Deutsche Grammophon), Ferencsik (Hungaroton), Ristenpart, and the conductorless Orpheus Chamber Orchestra (both on Nonesuch).

Well, that's the story. Or, perhaps I should say, that's the story thus far. Who knows what will happen? There are a number of alternatives which could arise. The work could remain in the repertoire in the form with clarinet, this despite my earlier comments about how discredited works disappear. Alternatively, the work could remain in the repertoire in two different versions: that of the traditional one and Levin's new version. That would be interesting. In fact, Levin told me that there is to be a tour in Europe where, on one night, the orchestra and soloists will play the clarinet version, and, on the next night, the flute version. That's an innovative way to get the same audience to come for both nights! Or, Levin's remarkable new version could become so popular that the older version is completely eclipsed. Finally, there is the possibility that the work will go away altogether as did the "Jena" Symphony.

A somewhat expanded version of this article was first published in The Clarinet (Fall, 1984) and is used here by kind permission of that journal and the author. Daniel N. Leeson is a professional businessman who has worked for the IBM Corporation for more than 27 years. He is also a leading Mozart scholar and co-editor of the volume of the Neue Mozart-Ausgabe which contains the wind serenades. He plays bass clarinet with the San Jose Symphony Orchestra and is a busy basset hornist throughout California.

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