Whatever Happened to the
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
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
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