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8.550201 - MOZART: Piano Concertos Nos. 13 and 20
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 - 1791)
Piano Concerto No.20 in D Minor, K. 466
The solo concerto had become, during the eighteenth century, an important vehicle for composer-performers, a form of music that had developed from the work of Johann Sebastian Bach, through his much admired sons Carl Philipp Emanuel and Johann Christian, to provide a happy synthesis of solo and orchestral performance. Mozart wrote his first numbered piano concertos, arrangements derived from other composers, in 1767, undertaking further arrangements from Johann Christian Bach a few years later. His first attempt at writing a concerto, however, had been at the age of four or five, described by a friend of the family as a smudge of notes, although, his father claimed, very correctly composed. In Salzburg as an adolescent Mozart wrote half a dozen piano concertos, the last of these for two pianos after his return from Paris. The remaining seventeen piano concertos were written in Vienna, principally for his own use in the subscription concerts that he organised there during the last decade of his life. The second half of the eighteenth century also brought considerable changes in keyboard instruments, as the harpsichord was gradually superseded by the fortepiano or pianoforte, with its hammer action, an instrument capable of dynamic nuances impossible on the older instrument, while the hammer-action clavichord from which the piano developed had too little carrying power for public performance. The instruments Mozart had in Vienna, by the best contemporary makers, had a lighter touch than the modern piano, with action and leather-padded hammers that made greater delicacy of articulation possible, among other differences. They seem well suited to Mozart's own style of playing, by comparison with which the later virtuosity of Beethoven seemed to some contemporaries rough and harsh.
Mozart entered the Piano Concerto in D Minor, K. 466, in his new catalogue of compositions on 10th February, 1785. It received its first performance at the Mehlgrube in Vienna the following day in a concert at which the composer's father, the Salzburg Vice-Kapellmeister Leopold Mozart, was present.
Leopold Mozart sent his daughter a description of the first of his son's Lenten subscription concerts, remarking particularly on the fine new concerto that was performed, a work that the copyist was still writing out when he arrived, so that there had been no time to rehearse the final rondo. He found his son busy from morning to night with pupils, composing and concerts, and felt out of it, with so much activity round him. Nevertheless he was immensely gratified by Wolfgang's obvious success. The next day Haydn came to the apartment in Schulerstrasse and Mozart's second group of quartets dedicated to the older composer were performed, to Haydn's great admiration.
The D Minor Piano Concerto, the first of Mozart's piano concertos in a minor key, to be followed a year later by the C Minor Concerto, adds a new dimension of high seriousness to the form, a mood apparent in the dramatic orchestral opening, with its mounting tension as the wind instruments gradually join the strings. The concerto is scored for trumpets and drums, as well as the now usual flute, pairs of oboes, bassoons and horns, with strings, the violas divided. The soloist enters with a new theme, after an orchestral exposition that has announced the principal material of the movement, and later extends the second subject in a work in which the recurrent sombre mood of the opening is only momentarily lightened by reference to brighter tonalities, these too not without poignancy.
The slow movement, under the title Romance, is in the form of a rondo, in which the principal theme, announced first by the soloist, re-appears, framing intervening episodes. Its key of B Flat Major provides a gentle contrast to the first movement, with a dramatic return to the minor, G Minor, in the second episode. Trumpets and drums are, according to custom, omitted from the movement, but return for the final rondo, into which the soloist leads the way, again in the original key of D Minor. A triumphant D Major version of an earlier theme interrupts a repetition of the minor principal subject, after the cadenza, and brings the concerto to an end. Cadenzas were presumably improvised by Mozart, and not written out, as they would have been for his pupils or for his sister, and do not survive. Beethoven, who had narrowly been prevented by his mother's final illness from studying with Mozart in Vienna, provided cadenzas for the first and last movements.
Writing to his father in Salzburg three years earlier, on 28th December 1782, Mozart, full of hope and enthusiasm, describes the set of three piano concertos that he was to announce in January for his proposed subscription concerts, works that were to be a happy medium between the easy and the difficult, brilliant and pleasing, without being empty, with elements that would afford satisfaction not only to the knowledgeable, but provide pleasure to the less perceptive, although they would not know why. He was busy at the same time as a teacher and performer, while completing a piano arrangement of his German opera Die Entführung aus dem Serail, which had proved very successful when it had been staged at the Burgtheater in July. At the same time he had started work setting an ode on Gibraltar, written by a Jesuit, commissioned by a Hungarian lady, and never completed. On 15th January subscriptions were solicited in the Wiener Zeitung for the three concertos, with optional wind parts, allowing performance also with the accompaniment of only a string quartet. Money was slow in coming in, and in April Mozart was writing to the publisher Sieber in Paris offering the three concertos, which he claimed could be performed with full orchestra, the French preference, with oboes and horns, or simply with four-part string accompaniment. The concertos, K. 413 - 415, were published in 1785 by Artaria in Vienna.
The third concerto of the set, in C Major, written early in 1783, was first performed in the presence of the Emperor at a concert in the Burgtheater on 23rd March 1783 devoted entirely to the music of Mozart. The programme also included operatic and concert arias, one sung by Aloisia Lange, the Haffner Symphony, and the early D Major Piano Concerto, with Mozart as soloist. He played the C Major concerto again at a Burgtheater concert a week later, once more in the presence of the Emperor, these royal occasions allowing the addition of trumpets and drums and a pair of bassoons to the orchestra. The opening would hardly have met with approval in Paris, which prided itself on the premier coup d'archet, a phrase that Mozart found ridiculous enough. Instead the first violins enter alone, imitated by the second violins and then by violas, cellos and double basses. The movement has a larger element of counterpoint than in earlier concertos, and allows the soloist greater chances for display. Originally Mozart had contemplated a C Minor slow movement instead of the present F Major Andante, from which trumpets and drums are, according to general custom, omitted. The final rondo is introduced by the soloist, who follows the orchestral extension of the principal theme with an unexpected Adagio in C Minor, its profounder implications dispelled by the return of the rondo theme. The movement has a final section which brings surprising further development and a reappearance of the Adagio before the work comes to an end.
He is currently engaged in a project to record all Mozart's piano concertos for Naxos. Other recordings for the Naxos label include the concertos of Grieg and Schumann as well as Rachmaninov's second Concerto and Paganini Rhapsody and Beethoven's complete piano sonatas.
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