Although it may seem a bit trite to try to condense the history of such a prolific work, let alone the composer behind it, I wanted to stick our toes just a bit into the history of one of the most famous flute concerti, Mozart’s Concerto No. 2 for flute in G Major, K. 314 (285d). If you haven’t played it yourself, chances are your ears still perk up when you hear that famous ascending opening line. It remains one of my all-time favorite pieces, both to listen to and play, and it is one of the most important and widely studied pieces for the flute.
Something you may not know is that this piece was originally written as an oboe concerto! For nearly two hundred years, scholars believed that it was originally composed for the flute in Mannheim in early 1778. However, the solo parts and the orchestra transcription for the oboe concerto in C were discovered in Salzburg in 1920, and in 1952 it was demonstrated conclusively that he reworked the Oboe Concerto in C major, K. 271k, into a concerto for flute. This Concerto in C major, K. 314 (271k), was composed in the spring or summer of 1777 for the oboist Giuseppe Ferlendis (1755–1802) from Bergamo. Ferlendis at the time was the oboist at the Court Chapel of Salzburg—and, for a fun fact, had a higher salary than Mozart himself at the time.
In 1778, Mozart was commissioned by Dutch flautistFerdinand De Jeanto write four flute quartets and three flute concerti. Mozart, however, only completed three quartets and one new flute concerto, the also-famous Concerto No. 1 in G Major. Due to the time constraints, instead of creating a new second concerto, Mozart rearrangedthe oboe concerto he had written a year earlier as the second flute concerto, although with substantial changes for it to fit with what the composer deemed flute-like. However, De Jean did not pay Mozart for this concerto because it was based on the oboe concerto, which was quite a point of contention for Mozart. In a letter written to his father, he complains of the partial payment and describes his reasons for being behind schedule with his compositions: “I never have a single quiet hour here. I can only compose at night, so that I can’t get up early as well; besides, one is not always in the mood for working.” Even more interestingly, he then continues, “Moreover, you know that I become quite powerless whenever I am obliged to write for an instrument I cannot bear.”
Ouch! Well, for apparently not taking kindly to the flute, he certainly was still able to produce an absolutely marvelous piece that takes the unique aspects and character of the instrument into account. Please enjoy this recording of the 3rd movement of Mozart’s Concerto No. 2 for Flute in D Major, featuring Emmanuel Pahud:
And for further study of the fascinating history of this piece and the full correspondence between the Mozart family during this time, check out this article: