Hyperion Records

Violin Concerto No 4 in B flat major
Josef Myslivecek composed the earliest work in this collection. It dates from 1772 or earlier and thus predates Mozart’s by several years. The Bohemian Myslivecek was friendly with Mozart; each admired the other’s musicianship and it is possible that Myslivecek’s concerto-writing exerted an influence on Mozart.

Myslivecek was one of identical twin brothers born on 9 March 1737 in Prague. Reports of their receiving tuition from Felix Benda (c1700–1768) cannot be substantiated but both certainly entered the Charles University as philosophy students. Josef showed more interest in music than in anything else and, despite becoming a master miller (his father’s trade) in 1761, the violin bow prevailed over grain. That calling he left to his brother, Jáchym. Josef began composing in about 1760: a reported set of symphonies titled after months of the year is a myth (as are his reported nicknames, ‘The Divine Bohemian’ and ‘Venatorini’), but he did indeed become an important symphonist, producing eighty-five examples.

His vivacious personality endeared him to the Mozart family when they met in Bologna in 1770. ‘He exudes fire, spirit and life’, wrote Wolfgang. There is no doubt that Myslivecek’s Italianate style influenced Mozart a great deal in opera, symphonies, and violin concertos. Furthermore, Myslivecek wrote the earliest examples of string quintet (before 1767), a form Mozart made his own much later.

Myslivecek’s musical style reflects Mozart’s impression of the man himself. A beguiling melodic gift is evident in the first movement, and despite the introduction of virtuoso writing for the soloist he never forgets that he is writing for the listener who appreciates orderly forms, pleasing harmonies and graceful melody. The Larghetto celebrates the songful capabilities of the violin in a gentle aria-like piece to which the orchestra contributes a prelude and postlude, with short contrasting interludes. Myslivecek’s ‘fire’ is well displayed in the Presto finale.

Josef Myslivecek met an unfortunate end. After a brutal operation which removed his nose in an attempt to ‘cure’ his venereal disease, his earlier successes were forgotten and he died in poverty in Rome in 1781, aged forty-three.

from notes by Robert Dearling © 1996

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