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Leopold Mozart, maybe?
Toy Symphony

Sometimes the composer’s name is what draws us into the concert hall, even if a particular work is unfamiliar to us. At other times, the music itself outshines its creator. And then there are those works whose authorship remains a mystery, like the Toy Symphony on tonight’s program. The first published version, which appeared in 1820, listed Joseph Haydn – incorrectly – as its composer. How did this happen?

Until the mid-19th century, copyright laws were largely nonexistent. To boost sales, music publishers often deliberately and erroneously attributed works to popular composers. This Toy Symphony – there are others, some written by well-known composers like Felix Mendelssohn – has been attributed to Mozart’s father Leopold, both Haydn and his brother Michael, and an Austrian Benedictine monk/liturgical composer named Edmund Angerer (1740-1794). The latest historical research presents at least four different partial manuscript versions of this Toy Symphony and makes a strong argument for Angerer as its most likely author.

This delightful mini-symphony has three movements – fast, slow, fast – and showcases the toys, particularly the insistent cuckoo and nightingale bird whistles. Other toy instruments featured include the glockenspiel, triangle, drum, and ratchet.

At a Glance
  • Composer unknown (variously attributed to Joseph Haydn, Leopold Mozart, Edmund Angerer and others)
  • Work composed: c. 1760
  • World premiere: undocumented
  • Instrumentation: 5–7 toy instruments (bird whistles – cuckoo and nightingale; ratchets/groggers, drum, triangle, glockenspiel), and strings minus violas
  • Duration: about 10 minutes

© Elizabeth Schwartz.