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8.550202 - MOZART: Piano Concertos Nos. 12, 14 and 21
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 - 1791)
Piano Concerto No. 21 in C Major, K. 467
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of the eighteenth century also brought considerable changes in keyboard instruments, as the harpsichord was gradually superseded by the fortepiano or pianoforte, with its hammer action, an instrument capable of dynamic nuances impossible on the older instrument, while the hammer-action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 weIl 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's Piano Concerto in C Major, K. 467, was entered in his catalogue of compositions with the date 9th March, 1785, a month after his D Minor Concerto. Like its immediate predecessor it is scored for trumpets and drums, as well as flute, pairs of oboes, bassoons and horns, and strings, with divided violas. It was first performed by the composer at the fifth of his Lenten Mehlgrube concerts on 11th March, the day after a concert in the Burgtheater for which he had used his new fortepiano with an added pedal-board, an instrument that his father remarks is constantly being taken out of the house for concerts at the Mehlgrube or in the houses of the aristocracy.
The opening bars of the exposition, played by the strings, are answered, in military style, by the wind, and there is a second theme of less significance than a true second subject, which is reserved for the soloist's exposition. The soloist enters at first with an introduction and brief cadenza, leading to a trill, while the strings again play the first part of the principal theme, answered by the piano, which then proceeds to material of its own. An unexpected foretaste of the great G Minor Symphony from the soloist leads to the happier mood of the true second subject, echoed by the woodwind and followed by darker moments in the central development. The F Major slow movement has won recent fame, by its use in the film Elvira Madigan, but is, nevertheless, one of the most beautiful of Mozart's slow movements, moving in its apparent simplicity and lack of bravura but complex, in fact, in its harmonic pattern. Trumpets and drums return for the final rondo, its principal theme announced by the orchestra and repeated by the soloist. The movement provides a relaxation of mood, a carefully balanced and lighter conclusion to a concerto of much substance.
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 A Major Concerto, K. 414, was completed in the autumn of 1782. The date of its first performance is unknown, although it may have formed part of a concert given by Mozart and his pupil Josephine von Auernhammer on 3rd November. Two sets of cadenzas survive, the later versions probably from 1785. The first movement, characteristic of Mozart at the height of his powers, opens with the principal theme, which the soloist is later to repeat and develop. The slow movement opens with a theme borrowed, no doubt in tribute, from Johann Christian Bach, who had died in London earlier in the year. The D Major theme appears, during the movement, in unusually full harmony in the solo part, giving it an air of solemnity. The concerto ends with a rondo, its lively principal theme introduced by the first violins, but deferred in the solo part until other points have been made.
In February 1784 Mozart began to keep a list of his compositions, the first entry in his catalogue the E Flat Major Piano Concerto, K. 449, and the autograph carries the same date, 9th February. The concerto, like the first group of three written in Vienna, K. 413 - 415, allows an optional use of wind instruments, the usual two oboes and two horns and can be played with single strings, or, at least, only one viola. As Mozart remarked in a letter to his father, such a work would be possible at home in Salzburg, since wind-players did not often take part in meetings in Leopold Mozart's house.
The E Flat Concerto, K. 449, was probably performed for the first time at a concert Mozart gave at Trattner's rooms in Vienna on 17th March 1784, the first of a series of three such concerts for the last three Wednesdays of Lent. Both the E Flat Concerto and the G Major, K. 453, were intended for Mozart's pupil Barbara von Ployer, the daughter of the Salzburg agent in Vienna.
The three concertos written at this time, K. 449, K. 450 and K. 451, show a development in writing for the orchestra and in the demands made on the soloist, as well as changes in the treatment of the form, now handled with increased boldness of invention. The E Flat Concerto touches at once on the key of C Minor in its opening bars and has its orchestral second subject in the unusual key of the dominant, B Flat, instead of in the tonic E Flat, a procedure usually left for the soloist's exposition that follows. The slow movement, with its two alternating strains, explores strange keys, before the busy final rondo is introduced by the orchestra.
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