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Going to the Source: Oboe Concerti by Mozart & Strauss

The MHS Review 403, VOL. 12, NO.7 • 1988

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Frank Cooper


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Among the great pleasures of a musical career are, I believe, getting to know a wide range of personalities, hav­ing opportunities to work with many different performers, and getting to con­sult with numerous others, including composers, critics, and scholars. So, when this release arrived (and knowing how scant was my acquaintance with the oboe literature), an amusing idea oc­curred to me: Why not consult an authentic nearby source other than my own reference library of books, scores, and recordings?

As a researcher, my credo has always been one of basing what I write on the best, the most authentic sources within reach, so that readers will feel secure in what is printed over my byline. Therefore, I walked from my classroom at Miami's New World School of the Arts across the hall to the office of our Dean of Music, John de Lande, and asked him to hear the recording and let me know what he thought.

I knew, of course, that he had per­formed both works during his decades as principal oboist with the Philadelphia Orchestra. But, more importantly, I knew that he was the man who, in 1945, had visited Richard Strauss in Switzerland and asked him to compose this very Oboe Concerto. Strauss had responded to the idea by completing the work before that year's end.

What a charmer it turned out to be! Strauss was in his "musical Indian sum­mer." At 81, he was a living legend who no longer had to prove anything to anybody. Claiming humorously that he wrote the Concerto to prevent his right wrist "from going to sleep premature­ly,'' Strauss penned a radiant, deftly structured work in three connected movements. The first is pastoral, lighthearted, even whimsical; the se­cond elegiacally autumnal; the last joyous and brilliant.

De Lande said he would happily listen to the performance. I handed over the record, noting my interest in discover­ing that the Mozart Oboe Concerto was music that I knew in its other guise, as the Flute Concerto in D major. He was quick to point out that all evidence in­dicates the work's origin as a work for the oboe. Later, Mozart transposed the Concerto up a step to make it suitable for performance on the flute of his day. An unexplained oddity of history caus­ed the oboe original to slip from view (It was found in the library of the Salzburg Mozarteum only in 1949!), while the flute version remained at hand and became a staple of that instrument's repertoire.

Needless to say, I was all the more curious to hear the works myself as well as to learn de Lancie's impressions of the soloist, David Boyd. Much touted as Scotland's finest oboe-playing native son, Boyd has been making quite a name for himself in Europe and America. Like the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, his is a reputation for youthful vigor and virtuosity.

After a respectable period of a few days, I popped into de Lancie's office to inquire, "Have you gotten a chance to hear the Boyd record yet?" He asked, "Did you take the record back?" "Why, no," I replied, "I thought you had it." "I did, but I don't now. The sleeve is here but the record isn't!" I wondered, "Do you suppose somebody walked off with it?" "Well, I guess so," he shrugged.

There you have it, gentle reader, as it happened. My effort to obtain for you the best possible opinion has left me to imagine that, if the record is enticing enough for someone to risk stealing, it surely is worth buying.

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