Mozart’s Flute and Harp Concerto is unique
The setting was Paris, 1778. It was the same year that Capt. Cook named the Hawaiian Islands the Sandwich Islands. Mozart was on another of his European road trips, this time with his mother. He was in pursuit of a lucrative and high-profile position -- something that had eluded him during his years as an underpaid court musician in Salzburg, Austria. Mozart was to spend only one year in the City of Light.
In concert: 8 p.m. Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday
Place: Mamiya Theatre, Saint Louis School
Tickets: $21 to $74, with 20 percent discount for seniors, students and military. Sunday's performance is sold out.
Call: 792-2000 (days) or 524-0815, ext. 245 (evenings), or visit www.honolulusymphony.com.
A brilliant product of Mozart's time in Paris is his lovely Flute and Harp Concerto, which we'll perform this weekend. Brimming with sunshine and French charm, the concerto is his only work that brings together these instruments.
The concerto was commissioned by a French duke who intended to perform it at home, with his gifted daughter on harp and himself on flute. The pairing of these two different instruments is just one of the facets that make it so remarkable. Mozart has both instruments share equally in the music. The flutist and harpist alternate the role of soloist: We each take our turn as soloist, then as accompanist. And we work together to perform the joyful melody.
In Mozart's time the harp didn't have the improvements of our modern instruments, so composers didn't write for it as often. The double-action pedal harp (the design we use today) was invented in 1810 by the Frenchman Sébastien Érard. This meant that before 1810, harpists could not play in all of the key signatures. Érard, who also built pianos, spent eight years perfecting the double-action pedal harp.
Perhaps another reason Mozart didn't write more for the harp is because of its limited chromatics during his lifetime. The harp slowly became a standard member of the orchestra in the 1800s, when works like Hector Berlioz's "Symphonie Fantastique" helped build its popularity. By happy chance, we will perform this splendid symphony in March.
Mozart's Flute and Harp Concerto was intended for performance in a French salon -- the grand and large living rooms of the rich -- and this makes it an excellent choice for the Mamiya Theatre this weekend. The theater, which seats only about 500, more closely imitates the personal feeling of what we imagine a salon was like. We won't have the brocade coats or powdered wigs, but we will have a wonderful atmosphere.
In the end, Mozart's Paris visit was not a success. Truth be told, it was marked by disappointment and heartbreak: He didn't find a job, and his mother became sick and died. Nonetheless, he continued to compose throughout his Parisian residency.
It is said that Mozart didn't like the flute, despite his beautiful writing for the instrument. Perhaps the fact that the duke never paid him for the concerto had something to do with it.
While his time in Paris didn't result in a dream job, the luminous Flute and Harp Concerto is testimony that Mozart's trip was meaningful. And although we can't fully exonerate the duke, we can be grateful that he put into motion the creation of this irresistible masterwork.