Mozart CD

by Lowell Greer
November 2002

My preparation for the CD recording of the Mozart concerti, besides practising the works for 30 years, studying every commercial and pirate recording I could find, and studying every printed edition available, was the developement of a new path for me. Since the recording was being done on "original instruments", with period performance practises, and hopefully with easthetics similiar to those of that era, the wheel had to be reinvented, so to speak, e.g., I could not count automatically on the work of other players before me, as the model I would follow, no matter how much I admired those performances, as the era of Wagner held so many documentable shifts in performance practise, that would have to be reversed in order to "get the horn to speak its language without an accent".

My first step was to find the best URTEXT as possible. Manuscripts in Mozart's hand are available for the 1st concerto 1st movement, all of the 2nd and 3rd concerti, and part of the 4th concerto (most of 2nd movement and all of the 3rd movement). Mozart indicated very few articulations in the horn part, although the string parts are full of slurs and other good examples that can, when idiomatic for the horn, be transferred to the horn part. Oddly enough the few markings he gave in the horn parts were, almost without exception, absent from the available editions, at that time. I prepared my own editions (not available to the public, at this time) knowing that the remuddling of the horn parts was well under way by 1820 when most of the horn concerti had been published in high/low horn versions and short/long versions (for the less resilient lip), and in a few cases in "ossia versions" for people who did not wish, or were not able to play these concerti exactly as Mozart wrote them. Such versions were acceptable in those days, as things were less precise. Besides, who was going to know? Nobody had Brain's recording at home for comparison.

The high water mark of the dubious edition-versions were, in my opinion, found in the Reinecke editions; Herr Reinecke clearly felt that Mozart had, almost, written a good piece, were it not for a few passages that he, Reinecke, could "fix up". Pottag, Chambers, Cerminaro and other fine gentlemen/artist players have continued the traditions of "improved editions". Their ideas for their editions are very musical and continue to please players today, but as far as I could tell, all of the improvements were done from the post-Wagnerian perspective, and as such, had to be, at least temporarily, discarded.
Early music performances are like, or should be like, a picture in a puzzle assembled from different pieces, each of which both causes and allows the picture to be seen. The objective has never been, really, "look Mom, no hands", but a desire to recreate the circumstances under which the music was performed, as far as possible. It has never been my feelings, that any previous player's work was wrong. My interest was to strip away as many preconceived and inherited ideas as possible, and to allow research and familiarity with historic performance practises discussed in 18th and 19th century treatises to interface with what the instruments themselves could teach me; that all these vectors could intersect at a point where there would be freshness in the performance. Merely using some sort of valveless horn will not satisfy anyone, any more than reading treatises will automatically revolutionize one's interpretations. One hand washes the other.

Further help was rendered through the use of old style, backboreless mouthpieces. Playing at pitch standard under A 440 relaxed the sound as well.

The voicing of the natural horn with authentically narrow tapered crooks is quite different from the compromise replica horns being played by many early horn players. No one wants to put a valuable antique at risk through casual use, so most people get a repop horn by one maker or another, which, in all likelyhood has had some "development" work done on the tapers involved, as many museum quality horns will play poorly in several keys, causing modern players, accustomed to reliable instruments, much agony. I hope I said that the right way. I know of no one who is perpetrating fraud by intentionally using inappropriate equipment, but the repop horns are much nicer to use, if less representative in sonics. I however, wished to live the life of a, frustrated if neccesary, 19th century horn soloist, because that would help me keep historic boundaries on my artistic fantasy. The use of narrow tapers was a "sine qua non" for a decent match between the open and stopped sounds. The Mozart recordings, FYI, were done with the bell pointed directly at the microphone (closely set), eliminating any further opportunity for amelioration or mellowing of the sound from distance; the sound on the recording is almost gynecological (sorry for the image!) in clarity, which probably represents very few concert perspectives, but, in the positive, will give students of the natural horn a rare opportunity to evaluate, "up close", the sound of a representative historic effort by one player, at least (to be honest, I would rather not have had all my secrets revealed).

The issue of blend between open and covered sounds was addressed by all of the French treatises after Punto, and was clearly a skill whose development they considered essential at that time. Many players today delight in the difference between these tonal values, and readily accept them, if not "crank down a little extra" to get even more color clashes. I can't say that this is wrong, but it is definitely more of our age than Mozart's. Again, the use of compromise tapers predisposes the players on such horns to a more marked contrast in tonal values. Similiarly the use of a modern mouthpiece with a choke and backbore will also spread these colors wider apart. If you love the snarl of stopped horn, and wish to play Mozart that way, have a Conn coiled up like a hand horn (it will sound like Mahler!).

My solution to the equipment dilemma was to make my own replica of a Cor-Solo by Raoux, 1818, which would have the same tapers, detail of construction, and type of beauties (and problems) as the original. I have felt successful in this regard; my repop Cor-Solo plays just as unreliably and as sonorously as its "pappy".