As It Happens

This musician recorded Mozart's concertos on the composer's original violin

Playing Mozart's concertos on Mozart's own violin is like reaching through 250 years of history to commune with the legendary composer, says Christoph Koncz.

Christoph Koncz also performed the concertos live in what he describes as 'a very special experience'

Christoph Koncz has produced the first-ever recording of Mozart’s violin concertos on the violin the iconic musician originally used to compose them. (Andreas Hechenberger)

Playing Mozart's music on Mozart's own violin is like reaching through 250 years of history to commune with the legendary composer, says Christoph Koncz.

Koncz, the principal second violinist of the Vienna Philharmonic, not only got to play the precious baroque instrument. He also recorded Mozart's violin concertos on it, and performed them for a live audience on Friday in Salzburg, Austria.

"Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart played his violin concertos on this very instrument. So for me to perform Mozart's violin concertos for an audience, a live audience in Salzburg, was a very special experience," Koncz told As It Happens host Carol Off. 

"I think the audience also understood this feeling at this point, and it was great for everybody to be coming together also in these extraordinary circumstances and to just celebrate the music of this genius."

Koncz's new album, the first ever complete recording of Mozart's violin concertos on the composer's original violin, is now available on CD or for digital download.

Koncz first encountered Mozart's violin eight years ago at the Stiftung Mozarteum in Salzburg, where it is preserved as a museum piece, and brought out once or twice a year to be performed in front of an audience. 

After one such performance, Koncz decided to go backstage and ask if he could see the instrument. The violin's keepers did him one better, and invited him to come play it whenever he liked.

Those first moments alone with the instrument are something he'll never forget, he said.

"It was a great experience to be able to play it privately in the beginning, and just to get to know it. These moments were very precious to me," he said.

"For me, Mozart has been really a very central part of my musical life, even as a child."

The gut-string violin is usually kept under lock and key at the Mozarteum Foundation in Salzburg. (Andreas Hechenberger)

But getting to know a violin takes time — especially one that's played so infrequently. 

Koncz had the idea to record the concertos on the violin, something that had never been done before. But first, he had to spend many years playing it and slowly coaxing it back to life.

"For an instrument, especially a stringed instrument, to be laying dormant for a long time, it's not really ideal for the sound of the instrument because the wood just gets a bit stiff. It needs to be vibrating in order to be sounding freely," he said.

"So it was my great task to actually really go back regularly to Mozart's birthplace in order to practice on the violin as often as I could."

The violin itself — likely Mozart's first — was built in 18th-century Mittenwald, Bavaria, a town famous for its violin making.

The young child prodigy would have played it when he was named concert master of the Salzburg Hofkapelle at the age of 13, Koncz said.

"This was his first job, actually, his first position anywhere, and that's when he started playing on this violin," he said. "And he kept this position for several years, and that's when he wrote his violin concertos."

When the composer moved to Vienna at the age of 25, he passed the violin on to his sister Nannerl, who gifted it to a star music pupil of hers, who died.

The girl's grieving parents then sold it to another violin teacher, who by pure chance, lived in the same flat where Mozart was born, Koncz said.

"So in some ways, the violin returns to Mozart's origins, which I think is quite extraordinary," he said. 

The instrument passed through a few more hands before finally ending up with the Mozarteum, a foundation dedicated to preserving the composer's legacy.

Austrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart at the keyboard at the age of nine. (Hulton Archive/Getty)

Before recording the concertos and playing them live, Koncz says he did a lot of research into how Mozart would have performed them order to make the recordings as historically accurate as possible.

"That was the goal of this recording — on one hand, to use the violin as a vehicle to really come close to Mozart's times over the period of 250 years. And on the other hand, of course, the most important is nevertheless to express the emotions which are embedded in this music to a nowadays audience, and to use the violin as a tool because we know the sound is very close to what Mozart would have heard himself," Koncz said.

The first live show Friday was at Les Musiciens du Louvre at the Mozarteum Foundation. The next one, later this month, will be at the Cologne Philharmonic.

After that, he'll return to mostly to playing his own violin, a 1707 Stradivarius. But he says he'll always have a place in his heart for Mozart's. 

"I would say Mozart's violin has a very beautiful upper register and you can really produce a very singing tone on it, which is very crucial when you actually perform lots of violin concertos," he said. 

"I'm convinced that Mozart's experience as a violinist on this instrument inspired him greatly how to write a violin concerto at all."

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Chris Harbord. 

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