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Oboist Reclaims Mozart's Lost Contemporaries

Berlin Philharmonic Principal Oboist Albrecht Mayer introduces neglected composers from Mozart's time on the new album <em>Lost and Found</em>.
Berlin Philharmonic Principal Oboist Albrecht Mayer introduces neglected composers from Mozart's time on the new album <em>Lost and Found</em>.

Does the name Jan Antonín Koželuh mean anything to you? It doesn't register even to most classical music geeks. But Albrecht Mayer would like to change that.

Mayer, the Berlin Philharmonic's principal oboist, chose a concerto by Koželuh and works by three other forgotten 18th-century composers for the new album Lost and Found. Mayer solos in the concertos and conducts the Kammerakademie Potsdam.

How did he discover these neglected composers? Online, of course. At least that's where his research began.

"I found myself in some really mysterious, obscure places," Mayer told NPR's Arun Rath, "like in university libraries all over the world. And I discovered so many interesting pieces which were never edited, never recorded, and so I developed the idea I should visit these places personally."

One of the libraries Mayer visited was in the Polish city of Wrocław, where he thought he found a new piece by Mozart.

"I opened the first page, and it was so beautifully drawn and colored, and it was really like a masterpiece," Mayer says. "And then I opened the second page to see the start of the score, and suddenly I realized, 'Oh, it might not be a masterwork. It might not even be Mozart.' And 30 seconds later I discovered it might not be interesting for me."

But Mayer did end up finding plenty that was interesting — concertos by contemporaries of Mozart. Like Ludwig Lebrun. "They knew each other," Mayer says. "They had been friends. And I think this concerto already points into the future, towards a direction of the early Romantic music." Lebrun wrote this concerto in G minor in 1777, the very year Mozart wrote an oboe concerto of his own, which remains lost.

And then there's the Bohemian Joseph Fiala, another friend of Mozart. "He was working in Salzburg in the famous Hofkapelle, in the best orchestra there," Mayer says. "He was a cello player and an oboe player, and this concerto is very demanding, so he must have been very good." Another gem Mayer found in Poland was by Franz Anton Hoffmeister.

So if their music is so good, why did these composers, regarded in their time, fall into the cracks of music history while others went on to immortal fame?

"Life isn't fair," Mayer says. And sometimes you need a little intervention.

"Without the Miloš Forman movie Amadeus," Mayer says, "nobody would be talking about Antonio Salieri nowadays. I'm sure that Koželuh and Fiala are much better composers than Salieri."

A few people, Mayer says, just make it — blessed by the gods or by fate to be immortal. And others die, only to become neglected along with their music.

"They are kind of victims of musical history," Mayer says. "Some of them are rediscovered, and some still sleep somewhere in their little graves."

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