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8.550205 - MOZART: Piano Concertos Nos. 17 and 18
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 - 1791)
Piano Concerto No.17 in G Major, K. 453
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 w rote 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of the eighteenth century also brought considerable changes in keyboard instruments, as the harpsichord was gradually superseded by the fortepiano or pianoforte, with its hammer action, an instrument capable of dynamic nuances impossible on the older instrument, while the hammer-action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.
In 1784 Mozart found himself much in demand in Vienna as a performer. His mornings, he explained to his father, by way of excuse for writing to him so infrequently, were taken up with pupils and nearly every evening with playing, and for his performances he was obliged to provide new music. The Piano Concerto in G major, K. 453, was the fourth of six written during the year, and bears the date 12th April in the index of his compositions that Mozart had begun to keep. It was written for his pupil Barbara von Ployer, who played it during a concert at her father's summer residence in June, an occasion to which Mozart had invited the composer Paisiello to hear both his pupil and this and other new compositions.
The concerto is scored for flute, with pairs of oboes, bassoons and horns and the usual strings. The opening orchestral exposition brings its own surprising shift of tonality before the entry of the soloist with the first subject and a movement that continues with occasional darkening of colour and with a miraculous interweaving of wind instruments with the rest of the orchestra to which they are no longer an optional addition. The C major slow movement, an Andante rather than an Adagio, as Mozart stresses in his letters home, opens with an orchestral statement of the principal theme, followed by brief contrapuntal interplay between the wind instruments, the soloist leading the theme into a darker mood. The concerto ends with a movement of which the principal theme was apparently echoed by Mozart's pet starling, transcribed into the notebook in which he was keeping his accounts and writing exercises in English, with the comment Das war schön! The theme, with all the simplicity of a folk-song, is followed by five variations and an extended coda. Original cadenzas survive for the first two movements.
Mozart completed his Piano Concerto in B fiat major, K. 456, on 30th September 1784, nearly six months after its immediate predecessor. In a year in which he confined his attention to instrumental music he had followed the G major Concerto, K. 453, with a violin sonata for the Mantuan Regina Strinasacchi, and two sets of keyboard variations. In September he caught a bad cold and became seriously ill, the result of exposure to the cold night air after the heat of the opera-house, where he had been attending a performance of a new opera by Paisiello. On 21st September Gonstanze gave birth to Mozart's second child, Karl Thomas, and a week later, at Michaelmas, the family moved house. The new concerto was written for the blind pianist Maria Theresia von Paradis, daughter of the imperial court secretary, apparently for her use during a stay in Paris, where, escorted by Salieri, she won success as a pianist, singer and composer.
The concerto is scored for flute, pairs of oboes, bassoons and horns, and strings. The customary orchestral exposition is followed by the soloist's entry with the first subject, expanded in music that was well suited to the touch, fluency and vividness attributed to Paradis by a Parisian critic. The G minor slow movement is in the form of a theme and variations, giving scope for delicate arpeggiated embellishments of the theme by the soloist, with wind instruments entrusted with the opening of a G major variation, before the minor key is restored and the movement proceeds to a close. The last movement is introduced by the soloist, who announces the principal theme of the rondo, with momentary touches of deeper drama and a curious and brief passage of syncopation, when the soloist breaks rhythm with the orchestra, before it resumes w hat is here a tempestuous course. Alternative cadenzas by Mozart for the first and last movements have been preserved.
Jeno Jandó was born at Pécs, in south Hungary , in 1952. He started to learn the piano when he was seven and later studied at the Ferenc Liszt Academy of Music under Katalin Nemes and Pál Kadosa, becoming assistant to the latter on his graduation in 1974. Jand6 has won a number of piano competitions in Hungary and abroad, including first prize in the 1973 Hungarian Piano Concours and a first prize in the chamber music category at the Sydney International Piano Competition in 1977. He is currently engaged in a project to record all Mozart's piano concertos for Naxos.
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