Monday, January 6, 2014

Mozart - Violin Concerto No. 5 ' Turkish' , K. 219

Most often it is the keyboard that is closely identified with Mozart as a performer, the harpsichord early in his career and the piano later.  But in his travels around Europe as a child prodigy he not only played keyboard instruments but the violin as well. His father Leopold was a renown performer and teacher of the violin and Wolfgang no doubt was taught and encouraged by Leopold on the violin. Leopold was employed as court musician at the court at Salzburg, eventually reaching the position of deputy concertmaster.

Wolfgang was also a court musician at Salzburg in different capacities, including that of concertmaster, the first desk violinist and the leader of the string section of the orchestra. For Mozart to have garnered this position he had to have been more than an average violinist. It was while he was a court musician at Salzburg that he composed his five violin concertos, the only concertos for violin he wrote. Four of the concertos were written in 1775 with one other written a few years earlier. Musical historians are divided in regards to whom the concertos were written, but perhaps Mozart played them himself in an effort to impress  the new Prince of the Salzburg Court, Count Hieronymus von Colloredo.  If this was the case, it was in vain as Mozart and the new Prince eventually came to loggerheads a few years later, and when Mozart tried to resign his position the prince refused at first, but a few months later the Prince relented and sent word to Mozart by way of a lackey who at the Prince's orders, dismissed Mozart with a literal kick in the ass!

The 5th Violin Concerto in A major has 3 movements:
Leopold Mozart
I. Allegro Aperto -  Mozart begins the concerto with the themes first played by the orchestra, as was the practice in concertos of his time. The themes are deceptively simple in their first hearing. The soloist, instead of entering in the same mood and tempo as the orchestra has set plays a short section, adagio in tempo and sweeter in mood. This adagio section leads directly to the violin taking up the mood and tempo of the beginning, and the violin fills out the first theme as the initial hearing by the orchestra was but a glimpse of what was to come. The second theme with its naive-sounding repeated notes is also expanded upon by the violin. The rather short development section is followed by the recapitulation. The violin plays a cadenza before the orchestra ends the movement.

II. Adagio -  Slow and graceful music that is like a faint reminiscence to the adagio section of the first movement that sounds like an opera aria for violin and orchestra. The violin sings throughout in long melodies that slowly unwind with sighs and slight pauses that contribute to the gentleness of the music.

III - Rondo - Tempo di Minuetto - The rondo theme is stated by the violin and returns between sections in different keys:

Roughly halfway through the movement the music changes time signature from 3/4 to 2/4, increases the tempo to Allegro, and changes the key to A minor:
 The new section is an example of the 'Turkish' music that was the rage of the times. It has nothing to do with authentic Turkish music, but more like a European composer's translation of it. It was usually in the form of a march and made use of percussion instruments not found in orchestras then. As Mozart wrote this for a small court orchestra that perhaps had no access to the cymbals, rattles and drums that other composers used, the cellos and double basses are instructed in the score to strike the strings with the wood of the bow to give a percussive effect.  The music swirls and turns becoming wild and rough. This section is the source of the nickname for the concerto. After a short cadenza for the soloist the music returns to the minuet.. After hearing the previous section the return of the minuet is as startling as the transition to the Turkish music. After the restatement of the theme and some other material, the slightly altered theme returns and the concerto comes to a close with an A major arpeggio from the soloist.

When Mozart was summarily booted in the ass from Salzburg he became a freelance composer in Vienna. To earn a living he turned to writing concertos for piano and appearing as soloist in them. No one knows why he composed only five violin concertos. Some musicologists have put forth that it was part of  his breaking away from his father, among other suppositions. Whatever the reason, there are the five violin concertos written in Salzburg, with the 5th being the most popular.


  1. The Turkish section is in 2/4 not 2/2. And the scale is a minor!! How in the name of God did you come up with F-sharp minor?? How can one make such a mistake? The fact the 3 sharps stays doesn't mean its in f sharp. It's the same key as the rondo alla turca from the piano sonata

  2. Of course you are correct. I have made corrections in the post, and I thank you for bringing this to my attention. They were stupid mistakes to be sure, and the inconsistencies in grammer and punctuation contained in your comments stand as evidence that both of us are capable of being human. That I have chosen a less aggresive way to make my point shows the difference in our styles of communicating. Mistakes made in describing the technical aspects of Mozart's concerto have little to do with the beauty of the music, and technical mistakes in the written word have little to do with the points being made about my post. But we share more than the propensity of making mistakes. We share the love of great music, and I wish you happy listening!



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