While in Mannheim during the winter of 1777-8 Mozart met the distinguished doctor and amateur flautist Ferdinand Dejean. In correspondence Mozart spells his name in different ways and sometimes refers to him as “our Indian” or “the Indian Dutchman” because of his service in the Dutch East India Company. According to a letter Mozart wrote to his father, this wealthy Dutchman commissioned him to compose “three modest, simple, and short concertos and a couple of quartets for the flute”. There are differing accounts of the actual number of compositions which Dejean commissioned but clearly Mozart never managed to write all the concertos. A dispute arose, Mozart claiming that he had not been paid the agreed sum of money, while Dejean was left short of the expected number of pieces. It was believed that, because he was pressed for time, Mozart made an arrangement of his oboe concerto to serve as one of two flute concertos which he did provide, but more recent scholarship has suggested that this flute version may have been prepared by someone else. The Flute Concerto No 1 in G major dates from February 1778. Its opening Allegro maestoso begins with a theme employing a favourite rhythm of Mozart’s. In 1784 he would begin three consecutive piano concertos—K453, K456 and K459—with this same rhythm, though each time he establishes a quite different character. Here in the flute concerto this rhythm contributes to a certain nobility. This opening sonata-form movement has the usual two principal themes, the second of which begins in E minor. Regarding Mozart’s writing for the flute, there are phrases which require good breath control—as do the quite frequent leaps between low and high registers—but the little breathing spaces show the composer’s typically professional consideration. In the orchestra the horns have moments of prominence, while the second violins have engaging passages of busy figuration. The robust development section, which spends much of its time in minor keys, is followed by a recapitulation with a few modifications of the original material, and a cadenza. In the beautiful central movement, also in sonata form, Mozart replaces his two oboes with a pair of flutes, as he had already done in the equivalent movement, in the same key, of his Violin Concerto No 3. The strings are muted while the horns often play in a lower register, so that the orchestral colour is rather soft, mellow and darker than previously. The very opening bar returns like a refrain at each structurally important point. Mozart’s writing for the flute is effectively a rich arioso and again the second violins have an unusually soloistic part with several passages of flowing demisemiquavers. Mozart ends as he had done in his Bassoon Concerto and Violin Concerto No 5, with an extended minuet-style finale. Here elegance is combined with virtuosity and a high level of invention. Especially in the contrasting episodes (one of them in E minor) in this rondo structure Mozart’s abundant melodic gift seems effortless and inexhaustible. As in the opening movement, wide leaps often enhance the flute’s melodic line. Sadly, the attractions of Mozart’s concertos for flute—and for the bassoon—tend to be generally undervalued, overshadowed by the glories of the many wonderful piano concertos, the Clarinet Concerto, the Sinfonia Concertante and the last three violin concertos. As Mozart composed a tremendous number of masterworks in his short but prolific creative life, not all of them receive the attention they deserve.
from notes by Phillip Borg-Wheeler © 2016