Linehan and horn home in on the grace of Mozart’s genius


Mimi Draut Linehan’s two-fold draw to the horn — its tone and its status as instrument of choice for her adored older brother — landed it in her lap as a 7th grader in Montgomery, Alabama. She turned it into a full-blown career.

Principal horn at the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra since 1983, she’ll take the spotlight at the popular “Mozart by Candlelight” concert, 7:30 p.m. Jan. 25 at Belhaven Center for the Arts in Jackson (as well as Jan. 24 in Brookhaven and Jan. 26 in Vicksburg), with Mozart’s third horn concerto.

The horn, so named because the instrument was originally made from animal horn, creates sound through the vibration of lips — buzzing, it’s called — into the mouthpiece. “People would buzz their lips into animal horns … think of how primordial that would sound,” Linehan says. “It’s just got this really timeless quality to it.”

Timeless, mellow and versatile, it’s got a tone that surrounds, rather than pierces, she says. “You can play really, really delicately,” such as in the MSO Woodwind Quintet. “But of course, it also has a lot of power when it needs to.”

Looks can be deceiving — the basic horn is about 12 feet long (“Imagine one of those alphorns, for example”), curled up on itself. “It’s just basically a lot of plumbing,” she says, chuckling.

The horn has a bit of a reputation, as a tough instrument to master. “The hardest thing about horn is playing the right note,” Linehan says; playing mostly in the upper portion of its range, notes are closer together and easier to miss. “You have to be able to hear the notes before you play, and really develop your lip memory.” Yes, that’s an actual term for brass players.

Linehan majored in music performance at the University of Southern Mississippi. She and Wayne Linehan, second trumpet with MSO (also music director/conductor of the Metropolitan Chamber Orchestra), have been married since 1985. They also play together in Capital Brass. Linehan teaches private horn lessons at Mississippi College, Germantown schools in Madison, and to the occasional student at home. She also travels a good bit to play with other orchestras — the Meridian Symphony Orchestra, the Alabama Symphony Orchestra in Birmingham, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Memphis Symphony Orchestra.

Linehan embraces the opportunity for three concerts with Mozart’s immensely pleasing Horn Concerto No. 3. The composer wrote it for his good friend and outstanding Austrian horn player Joseph Ignaz Leutgeb, and Linehan even describes it as “sort of like an old friend, when you listen to it".

“He wrote his concertos for a particular player, and supposedly they had kind of a back-and-forth, joking relationship,” she says. “So, there is a lot of fun to it.” Listen for that in the piece’s bright joy and lively wit. Think of conversation at an intimate gathering, where the horn is telling the most captivating stories and everyone’s absolutely enthralled.

“It’s, like, the ultimate Mozart, because he’s so graceful. Everything about Mozart was about being graceful. And, that’s what this piece has. You don’t have to shout from the mountaintops or anything like that,” Linehan says.

She’s got a history with the piece. “This was probably the first solo I ever played. I played the third movement of it with my high school band, back forever ago,” she says, laughing. “And, there’s a recording.” She’s also played it in a recital. 

When Linehan played all the different Mozart horn concertos for her mother, who passed away last year, she got to No. 3 and heard her mom greet it warmly, with a pleased sigh, “Oh yes. …”

“That’s what this piece is all about,” Linehan says. That beloved charmer, coming around again and always so welcome to hear.


1.25.20 / Belhaven University Center for the Arts / 7:30 pm / Jackson, MS

Tickets $23: buy here >

students/children (ages 4-18) $5 

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart:

  • Overture to Idomeneo

  • Symphony No. 20, in D, K. 133

  • Concerto for Horn No. 3, in Eb , K. 447 Mimi Linehan, horn

  •  Five Contredances, K. 609 Non più andrai

  •  Symphony No. 39 in Eb, K 543

Concert sponsored by: Mr. & Mrs. Emerson B. Robinson