© 2022 WOSU Public Media
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Mozart Minute: Bawdy Flute Stuff

image of a portrait of Mozart in which he wears a bright red coat
Catch The Mozart Minute every Friday at noon during the Amadeus Deli, and listen to The Mozart Minute podcast at wosu.org/podcasts.

It’s a pairing that could only have formed in the mind of Mozart – the genius composer’s elegant, even dainty flute quartets and flute concertos juxtaposed with some of his raunchiest writing.

Mozart mentioned his flute works-in-progress in one of his bawdiest bits of doggerel. On Jan. 31, 1778, Mozart wrote his mother a letter in the form of a poem that describes in graphic detail all manner of digestive function. The poem then mentions Johann Baptist Wendling, a flutist with the Mannheim orchestra who had secured for Mozart a commission from the wealthy surgeon and amateur flutist Ferdinand De Jean for three flute concertos and two flute quartets. Mozart seems to have taken liberties in his poem with the specific details of the commission.

Wendling, no doubt, is in a rage
That I haven’t composed a single page;
But when I cross the Rhine once more
I’ll surely dash home through the door
and, lest he call me mean and petty,
I’ll finish off his four quartetti.
The concerto for Paris I’ll keep, ‘tis more fitting
I’ll scribble it there some day when I’m ….
(Letters of Mozart and His Family, trans. Emily Anderson)

In the rest of his correspondence about the commission, Mozart is pretty nonchalant about getting down to the work of composing the quartets and concertos. Several times he mentions eagerly that he is to receive 200 gulden for completing the works. He mentions just as often that he has not yet finished composing them.

Did Mozart take the flute commission less seriously because he disliked the instrument? We’ll never know. But his three quartets and two solo concertos for the instrument remain some of the most important flute works in the repertoire.

Jennifer Hambrick unites her extensive backgrounds in the arts and media and her deep roots in Columbus to bring inspiring music to central Ohio as Classical 101’s midday host. Jennifer performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Civic Orchestra of Chicago before earning a Ph.D. in musicology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.