Mozart’s Sinfonia concertante for Four Winds

Notes by TŌN bassoonist Han-Yi Huang

The Missing Manuscript
Mozart was sulking on his way out. The concert in the Salle des Cent-Suisses, the concert hall of the Tuileries palace, was still in progress. Two gentlemen, Friedrich Ramm and Giovanni Punto, walked toward Mozart with anger. Ramm was an oboist and Punto played horn. Mozart had written a sinfonia concertante for them and two other wind players, and they were supposed to have performed it that day. They asked Mozart why it was not being played. Mozart did not have an answer. He had seen the manuscript lying in the same place for several days after he had given the music to the concert organizer for making copies. Two days ago, he found the music was missing.

Pitiful Paris
Mozart was sick of Paris. It seemed to him this city did not appreciate his talent. A couple of weeks ago, he visited a duchess. He had waited for half an hour in a freezing room without a fireplace before the duchess showed up. He was asked to play on a lousy piano with cold, numb fingers. While he was playing, the duchess began drawing and talking to several other people. All the unpleasant encounters like these had piled up in Mozart’s mind, but he didn’t want to vent his frustration on Ramm and Punto. After all, these two were among the few people who appreciated Mozart’s music. His answer to them was simple and short: I don’t know.

A Mozart Mystery
And that’s also the answer when you ask a Mozart scholar about who wrote the Sinfonia concertante K. 297b. This piece was never performed during Mozart’s life, and the manuscript was missing. The music we perform nowadays is a copy made by Otto Jahn, a Mozart biographer, in 1868 from an anonymous work entitled “concertante” with a different solo ensemble. After Jahn’s death, his Mozart collection was published, and thus this music was performed under Mozart’s name. The melody is very Mozartian. It might have been composed and adapted entirely by Mozart, or someone else might have made the adaptation. Or, someone imitated Mozart’s style when they wrote this piece.