Writing sample by Aaron Grad.
© 2020 Aaron Grad. All rights reserved.


Horn Quintet in E-flat Major, K. 407 [1782]

Born January 27, 1756 in Salzburg, Austria
Died December 5, 1791 in Vienna, Austria

Growing up in Salzburg, Mozart developed a lasting bond with Joseph Leutgeb, a longtime horn player in the local archbishop’s court orchestra and a dear family friend. When Leutgeb moved to Vienna in 1777 to take over a small cheese shop, Mozart’s father Leopold lent him some money; during the financial struggles that marred the end of young Mozart’s short life, Leutgeb returned the favor.

Their friendship was cemented in a series of works that Mozart wrote for Leutgeb after his own move to Vienna in 1781, starting the next year with the Horn Quintet in E-flat Major (K. 407). Whether driven by Mozart’s love of playing viola or sonic considerations to avoid crowding out the horn, the quintet features an unusual scoring, with a single violin but two violas. The nature of the valveless horn from that period made it challenging to play smooth melodic lines, but Leutgeb was a master of the various lip and hand maneuvers that made it possible to fill in the missing notes, as demonstrated by the slurred melodies Mozart wrote in the first movement.

A review in Paris once singled out Leutgeb’s ability to “sing an adagio as perfectly as the most mellow, interesting and accurate voice,” a talent that Mozart put to use in the tender Andante. Mozart’s own virtuosity as a composer comes through in the closing Rondo, including a canon that tosses the main theme through all five voices in turn before a final explosion of arpeggios.