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The Consort

Jeroen Billiet

Volume 73, Summer 2017

Leopold Mozart
Sinfonia Pastorella for alphorn and strings
Edition HH, HH430.FSP, Launton, 2016
(pbk, £16.50)
ISMN 979 0 708146 32 2

The Sinfonia Pastorella by Leopold Mozart (1719-87) was composed in Salzburg, probably in 1755, and designed for performance at Christmastide. As Dr Frances Jones, the editor of this published version, informs us, much of its thematic content would have been familiar to an eighteenth-century audience as the type of Christmas music found in such works as J. S. Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, Corelli’s concerto grosso op. 6 no. 8, Fatto per la notte di Natale and Handel’s ‘Pastoral Symphony’ (or Pifa), played at the moment of Christ’s birth in Messiah. An analysis by Frances Jones of Leopold Mozart’s Sinfonia Pastorella can be found in The Consort, vol. 65 (2009), pp.78-94.

The horn-call motifs used by village herdsmen as they rounded up their cattle in the morning were frequently included in a Christmas pastorella, as was the corno pastoricio (or alphorn) itself, in order to enhance the realism of the scene. Over a hundred pastorellas with alphorn parts survive. The pastorella tradition spread across the rest of Europe in the form of a purely instrumental concert piece, which told the Christmas shepherds’ story using thematic material from carols and other Christmas music.

Leopold Mozart’s work is a typical example of the genre; it is known by alphorn players as a very engaging but demanding piece to perform. Several editions of this work for small string orchestra and solo corno pastoricio already exist, and until now the edition by Max Reift (arranged by Scott Richards and Jozsef Molnar) has been the most widely known and performed. There are several issues concerning the piece, not least because no less than six manuscripts with significant textual differences survive in German and Austrian libraries.

It is also uncertain whether the corno pastoricio solo part is intended for the instrument we know today as the alphorn. In the eighteenth century, the horn came in many shapes and sizes, and it is possible that the instrument which Mozart had in mind was a simple animal’s horn, short and conical in shape. This was commonly used as an instrument for playing signals, in central Europe at that time. In my opinion, the Sinfonia Pastorella is likely to have been played an octave higher than written, on a clarino-like instrument instead of on the longer and less agile alphorn on which it is commonly performed today. As alphorns in the key of G are rare, the instrument normally used is an alphorn in G flat, together with a string orchestra at A=415.

In the critical commentary to this new edition, the editor addresses some of the questions raised by the work and offers a careful revision, together with an interesting historical introduction and scholarly, but readable, textual notes that will be of great interest to performers. She decided not to include the optional orchestral horn parts that appear in the Öttingen-Wallerstein manuscript. Although I agree with her that these parts do not add any relevant musical material, the combination of a signal instrument with orchestral horn parts in this mid-eighteenth-century manuscript are unique, and it is a pity not to have them available as an option.

A version for alphorn solo with keyboard reduction is also available from Edition HH, costing £9.95. To my knowledge, this is the first edition that compares the material of all the known manuscripts of the work. The editor deduces the most likely original score; her choices are effective and thoroughly argued. Her editorial decisions concerning articulation in both the instrumental and solo parts are excellent. She has provided a more detailed commentary on the Edition HH website. I thoroughly recommend this new edition.

We are grateful to theThe Consort for permission to reproduce this review.

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