November 29, 2010

Mozartian Humor

Mozart had a wicked sense of humor.  Today, we hold his musical genius in such high esteem that it's hard to imagine him as the off-color joke teller he was with his friends.  How else do you explain the double entendre of his canon Difficile lectu (read more on this), for example?  And his friends and colleagues were often the unwitting targets of his jokes.  A frequent mark was famous horn soloist Joseph Leutgeb, for whom Mozart originally wrote all of his horn repertory.  A good friend of Mozart's, Leutgeb often opened his part to find insulting notes left for him.  In fact, Concerto No. 1 contains risqué references and disparaging comments on Leutgeb's playing throughout the solo part.  The dedication for the second concerto, that you'll hear this weekend, is signed: "Wolfgang Amadé Mozart takes pity on Leutgeb, ass, ox, and simpleton, at Vienna, March 27, 1783."  In the score itself he marks the orchestra part "Allegro" (fast, lively) while the same section of the solo part is marked "Adagio" (easy, slow)--a tongue-in-cheek reference to the tendency of the horn to come in late, dragging the tempo.

That levity suits Symphony Silicon Valley Principal Horn Meredith Brown just fine.  Asked what she thought would be most fun for the audience to know when listening to her perform Mozart's Horn Concerto No. 2 this weekend, she had one word "humor"--pointing to the close, joking relationship between Mozart and Leutgeb.  Here's the rest of our mini-interview with Ms. Brown.

Symphony Silicon Valley (SSV): How did you choose this particular piece for December's concert?
Meredith Brown (MB):  I love all of Mozart's writing for horn, but this concerto is my (current) favorite--I think it's just perfectly constructed.

SSVWhat attracted you to the horn?
MB:  My older sister played flute, and I was dragged along to see her middle school band concerts… I always thought the horn looked the coolest.

SSVWhat were some of your favorite concerts?
MB:  That's a really tough one...  I got to do Bruckner's 8th and 9th symphonies with Kurt Masur and I feel REALLY lucky for that, for example.

SSVBesides symphony, you also have played for a large number of theatrical productions.  What were your favorites?
MB:  My absolute favorite show is Ragtime!  The music and the story are pretty amazing, and it doesn't get done that often.  I also enjoyed Baz Luhrman's production of La bohème.  He made it even larger-than-life than the typical opera, but kept the integrity of the music tantamount.

SSVAny interesting anecdotes or stories you'd like to share with our readers?
MB:  It's hard to know what to do about the "water problem" (breath condensation) for brass players when we're the soloists.  Who wants to see someone in an evening gown or tuxedo dealing with the plumbing? A very nice friend of mine rigged my horn up so that if I pull one string, I can empty both water keys at the same time!

Mozart & Schubert: Saturday & Sunday, December 4 & 5


  1. How about a fancy ornate spitoon? The stagehand can bring it out beforehand....I know, it's not spit, only water(so why do they call it a "spit-valve"?). I'm just messing with you, Meridith. Looking forward to your gorgeous sound and exquisite phrasing!

  2. Yes, yes, a Brass Spittoon would be awesome and quite hilarious as well, keeping in context with the "humor" theme on the Mozart Concerto. You could make your own jokes in a way. Anyway, play great! I know you will. Have a great time and smile lots! :-)