In the mid-18th century a composition bearing the name Sinfonia concertante captivated audiences at large public concerts in Paris, London and Mannheim. In many ways akin to a solo concerto, symphonies with the participation of a group of solo instruments were seen primarily as an alternative to the usual orchestral symphony – somewhat lighter in content, but far more virtuoso and showy by nature. The powerful, stirring sound of the orchestra (in which an important role was played by developed parts for wind instruments) was combined with sections that allowed the best European performers to demonstrate their mastery.
As things turned out, the wider public is familiar with only a few examples among many hundreds of 18th-century concertante symphonies. By a certain irony of fate, sometimes even the names of composers who were famous in their day for writing dozens of such symphonies have been practically forgotten, whereas Mozart’s sole surviving opus in this genre, the Sinfonia concertante in E flat major for violin and viola (KV 364), is traditionally an integral part of the classical repertoire. It sufficed for Mozart to make just one episodic application of the sinfonia concertante genre in order to eclipse his colleagues’ legacy for several centuries, although admittedly this work occupies an important place among his compositions.