Although the first two programmes this season have concentrated on more modern composers, Peter Curbishley took us back at the Society’s meeting on 20 October, to the 18th century with an erudite presentation cryptically named ‘Mozart and his Paper.’ It was based largely on the work of the late Alan Tyson. Although Mozart’s music is so well known there are still mysteries concerning his compositions that need to be explored.
We learned that at the time Mozart was composing, paper was so expensive that musicians were often unable to acquire more than limited supplies. It was still a craft based industry unchanged for 600 years. Samples varied widely and it is from the watermark of the paper that we know where an individual piece was written. This often provided insights into Mozart’s compositional process and showed that some compositions took time, often several years, before reaching fruition. The Hunt Quartet for example may have taken four years.
Other mysteries were then exposed. The Horn Concerto in D presents an enigma: did Mozart write the rondo or not? Although the greater part of the manuscript was found in Krakow, the rondo turned up later in St Petersburg, but in a different handwriting.
We heard an excerpt from the Paris Symphony and although this is the only Mozart symphony which survives from this time, there is a letter written to his father that mentions a second symphony, although there is no trace of it. There are two versions of the slow movement however and paper studies have revealed which was the final version.
The Piano Concerti provide further surprises he said. On examination of the manuscripts it appears that the first movement is often in a different handwriting from subsequent movements and on different paper. It now seems possible that Mozart would, from time to time, write a first movement and then await an opportunity – a commission perhaps – to write the remaining movements.
A popular and celebrated great composer, yes, but one who is full of surprises.