An Exuberant Concerto from a Fiery Czech

Myslivecek Venice
Venice, painted by John Singer Sargent

One could easily mistaken this outstanding violin concerto for a less known composition of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. But it’s not from Mozart! It’s from one of his teachers, Josef Myslivecek. Myslivecek introduced Mozart to several compositional models for symphonies, Italian opera seria*, and violin concertos. Both Wolfgang and his father Leopold considered him a good friend from the time of their first meetings in Bologna.  They found his dynamic personality irresistibly charming – in his letters Mozart calls Myslivecek full of “fire, spirit and life” – until a mutual allegations of betrayal estranged the Mozart’s from Myslivecek.

Myslivecek’s Violin Concerto in D major was first listed in the catalogue of the publisher Breitkopf & Härtel in 1769, the undated manuscript is preserved in the Czech Museum of Music in Prague. It is exuberant, joyful, very dynamic and it is no surprise that Mozart was tempted to use it as a model. Daniel E. Freeman writes in a piece for Oxford Music Online that Mozart “borrowed musical ideas from Myslivecek’s concertos, symphonies and keyboard sonatas in various works”. The pleasant and easy to remember melodic lines of the violin concerto and its harmonies give it a great entertaining value, something that was important to Mozart, who was constantly indebted and looked for concert subscriptions to fill his purse.

Myslivecek was born in Prague in 1737, his father was a rich mill owner. He studied philosophy at Karl-Ferdinand-University and learned the miller’s trade. However, he was more inclined to the arts and abandoned the family business in order to pursue musical studies. It seems that he established an excellent reputation as a violinist. In Prague, he studied composition with Franz Habermann and Josef Seger in the early 1760s, later he traveled to Venice to study with Giovanni Pescetti.

The concerto probably saw the light after Myslivecek had arrived in Venice in 1763. He wrote no less than 45 symphonies, dozens of operas, sonatas, cantatas, oratorios and works for chamber music. In Italy he became known as “Il Boemo” (The Bohemian), in 1771 he was made a member of the Accademia Filarmonica di Bologna. No more lucky than Mozart in financial affairs, he died destitute in Rome in 1781.

The Violin Concerto in D minor has been recorded by Leila Schayegh (violin) and the Collegium 1704 led by Vaclav Luks.

© Charles Thibo

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de Chareli

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