Mozart’s earliest childhood performances as a violinist were recounted humorously by Johann Andreas Schachtner. In a 1792 letter to Mozart’s sister, Maria Anna, or “Nannerl,” Schachtner, a close friend of the family, recalled an occasion when he was invited to play second violin for an informal chamber music session at the Mozart house.
Little Wolfgang asked to be allowed to play second violin. As he hadn’t had any lessons yet, your Papa reproved him for his silly begging, thinking he would be unable to make anything of it. Wolfgang said: “You don’t need to have taken lessons to play second violin.” When your Papa insisted that he go away at once and not bother us, he began to cry, and went off in a sulk with his little fiddle. I asked that he be allowed to play alongside of me. At last your Papa said: “Play along with Herr Schachtner, then, but so softly that you can’t be heard, or you’ll have to go.” Soon I noticed to my amazement that I was superfluous. Quietly I laid my violin aside and watched your Papa, who had tears of wonder and pleasure running down his cheeks. Little Wolfgang played through all six trios. He was so elated by our applause that he said he could play the first violin part. We let him do it for a joke, and almost died of laughter. His fingering was incorrect and improvised, but he never got stuck.
Although Mozart became an accomplished violinist who was praised for the purity of his tone, his approach to the instrument remained playful. In contrast with the comparative “seriousness” of his piano concertos, Mozart’s violin concertos are carefree, youthful, and fun-loving. All five were written in 1775 at a time when the 19-year-old composer served as concertmaster of the Archbishop of Salzburg’s court orchestra.
Even in these early works, the influence of opera is present. The theme which opens the first movement (Allegro) of Concerto No. 3 in G Major, K. 216 was based on the aria, Aer tranquillo e dì sereni, from Mozart’s opera Il rè pastore, which premiered in April of 1775. The solo violin becomes the spirited protagonist in a musical “conversation” among instruments. Just before the first movement’s recapitulation, the violin enters into a brief, declamatory recitative.
Opening with a shimmering ascending line performed by the violin alone, the second movement (Adagio) unfolds as an intimate and wistful aria. The violins and violas of the orchestra are muted, and Mozart substitutes flutes for oboes.
The finale is a sunny rondo, set in 3/8 time. It unfolds as an exuberant dance which moves through a series of adventurous episodes. These include a charming Andante section, propelled forward with arpeggiating pizzicati and soulful tones in the oboes, followed by a joyful folk dance (Allegretto). The Concerto’s final notes drift away with a smile.
Here is a 1968 performance featuring David Oistrakh and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra. It is a spectacular display of style and finesse by one of the supreme artists of the twentieth century. Oistrakh’s magical ability to maximize the vibration of the string through bow speed is on display. Where Mozart would have improvised cadenzas, we hear Oistrakh’s own.
- Mozart: Violin Concerto No. 3 in G Major, K. 216, David Oistrakh, Berlin Philharmonic Amazon