EXPLORING MUSIC: A NICELY PHRASED PERFORMANCE/The Magic Flute
The MHS Review 400 VOL. 12, NO. 4 • 1988
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I've always had a problem with transcriptions. I still have painfully vivid memories of Strauss waltzes a la Mantovani, and of the Grieg Piano Concerto ingeniously arranged for ballroom dancing. So here I am about to review wind-band transcriptions of selections from two Mozart operas I know and love in their original incarnations, and I approach this project with my psychological baggage largely intact. Transcription is still synonymous with adulterated food, inferior "knock-off" products, and elevator music.
The problem I have with this whole enterprise is that I actually like these transcriptions, and now I have to explain why. First of all, Mozart himself was a great wind composer. The scores of his piano concerti, as well as those he wrote for flute, bassoon, clarinet, and horn, not to mention the Sinfonia con certante, K. 297 and virtually all his operas, show his genius for exploiting the tone colors, balances, articulation, and phrasing possibilities of wind in struments. So these transcriptions really aren't that far from their originals.
Eighteenth-century composers routinely transcribed their own works (as well as those of others) for purely practical reasons. If one wrote an opera, all one could hope to realize financially was the sum of the original commission and perhaps a percentage of the box office receipts, unless one could find another way to market the music. A quick transcription could be a reasonable way of making a few extra florins from one's efforts (since most of the noblemen who were the musical patrons in those days usually didn't have an entire opera company lying about the palace, but often did have a few servants who were proficient instrumentalists).
Mozart did entertain the idea of setting music from The Abduction for wind band. He wrote Papa Leopold on July 20, 1782 that " .. .I am up to my eyes in work for I have to arrange my opera for wind instruments .. .If l don't, someone else will anticipate me and gain the profits." Since no transcription of this work exists in the Kochel listings, I can only assume that Herr Wendt, the transcriber of record and probably the "someone else" of Mozart's letter (Wendt is credited with transcribing no fewer than five Mozart operas), had indeed anticipated Mozart and had indeed gained the profits.
Johann Nepomuk Wendt was an English horn and oboe virtuoso attached to the emperor's court in Vienna at the time Mozart was producing his operas for the court theater. Wendt also was responsible for directing the emperor's wind band and supplying it with music. He was an industrious fellow with over 40 opera and ballet transcriptions to his credit, and, as the high quality of his transcription clearly shows, he was also an exemplary craftsman. Of the other transcriber, Herr Heidenreich, I know little except that he was a quick worker: his lovely arrangement of The Magic Flute was being advertised within four months of that opera's premiere, and within one month of its composer's death.
The Amadeus Ensemble turns in fleet, beautifully intoned, and nicely phrased performances of both scores. Mr. Rudel obviously knows his way around this music in its original versions and conducts with verve and style. My only gripe is that both these suites are so brief. With music this delicious one is always left wanting more.
Review of Wolfgang A. Mozart Page 1