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8.550208 - MOZART: Piano Concertos Nos. 6, 8 and 19
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 - 1791)
Concerto in F Major, K. 459
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 in 1779. 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of the eighteenth century also brought considerable changes in keyboard instruments, as the harpsichord was gradually superseded by the fortepiano or pianoforte, with its hammer action, an instrument capable of dynamic nuances impossible on the older instrument, while the hammer-action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.
The Piano Concerto in F major, K. 459, was completed on 11th December, 1784 and seems to have been designed for the composer's own use. In his own catalogue Mozart describes the work as scored also for trumpets and drums, in addition to flute, pairs of oboes, bassoons and horns, and strings, but trumpet and drum parts are lost, if they ever existed, for a work in a key that is not, for Mozart, a trumpet key. Mozart played the concerto at the concert he organised in Frankfurt for the coronation there of the new Emperor Leopold II on 15th October, 1790. This and the Concerto in D major, K. 537, played on the same occasion, have both been given the title Coronation Concerto, although English-speakers have preferred to bestow the title only on the later work.
The first movement of the concerto opens with a familiar rhythm, announced first by flute and strings, joined in immediate repetition by the other wind instruments. The same theme introduces the soloist, who then accompanies its repetition by oboe and bassoon. Through the central development of the material the characteristic dotted rhythm of the opening reappears in a movement that allows the soloist dramatic triplet passage work as a salient feature. The C major second movement is marked Allegretto, instead of the usual Andante, its principal theme, announced at length by the orchestra, capped by a shorter passage, at first in G minor, and after the repetition of the principal theme, in C minor. The soloist introduces the final movement, a modification of the customary rondo form, in which a contrapuntal element appears in contrast to much of the surrounding material, forming one of the most impressive of Mozart's concerto movements, foreshadowing something of what was to come.
The Concerto in B flat major, K. 238, was written in Salzburg in January 1776. In December 1774 Mozart had travelled to Munich with his father to prepare performances of a newly commissioned opera, La finta giardiniera, for the carnival season. The following March they returned to Salzburg. Something of Mozart's discontent in Salzburg is revealed in a letter written in September 1775 to the great Italian composer, theorist and teacher Padre Martini, in which he laments the lack of singers for the theatre, the restrictions imposed on church music by the reformist Archbishop and w hat he describes as the struggling existence of music.
In 1775 Mozart had written the two violin Concertone and a group of five violin concertos for Salzburg. The B flat Piano Concerto, which followed, shows traces of these concertos, not least in its increasing richness of invention. It was intended presumably for his own use or for that of his sister and formed part of his repertoire when he left Salzburg in September 1777 on his journey to Paris, when he is known to have played it in Munich, Augsburg and Mannheim. The concerto is scored for a pair of oboes, replaced by flutes in the slow movement, and a pair of horns, with the usual strings. The first movement, marked Allegro aperto, an instruction found in the A major Violin Concerto of December 1775, opens with the customary orchestral exposition, introducing the two themes that are later to be repeated and developed by the soloist, for whom Mozart's written cadenza is preserved. The slow movement, in E flat, otters a principal theme characteristic of the composer in its more poignant connotations, here only implied in passing. The concerto ends with a cheerful rondo introducing an episode that suggests more popular music, a counterpart of the Turkish intrusion into the finale of the A major Violin Concerto.
Mozart wrote his Concerto in C major, K. 246 in April 1776 for Countess Antonia von Lützow, a niece of the Archbishop of Salzburg and wife of the commandant of the castle of Hohensalzburg, a woman he later described as high and mighty. The Countess was probably a pupil of Leopold Mozart. Mozart made use of the concerto during his journey to Mannheim and Paris in 1777 and 1778 and played it himself in Munich in October 1777, including in his concert there two other concertos, K. 238 and K. 271. It seems he performed the same concertos as a group in Paris. Nevertheless the C major concerto served well enough as material for pupils and in Mannheim it was performed twice by Therese Pierron Serrarius, daughter of the Mannheim Privy Court Councillor, in whose house he was lodging. Mozart was well enough pleased with his pupil, "unsere Haus-Nymphe", but less happy with an attempt by the Abbé Vogler to sight-read the work, the first movement prestissimo, the second allegro and the rondeau prestississimo, with arbitrary changes in harmony and melody. The orchestra opens the concerto, which is scored for the usual oboes, horns and strings, with the customary declaration of the first theme, later taken up by the soloist, who adds a further theme before proceeding to the second subject. The F major Andante provides an opportunity for subtle interplay between soloist and orchestra, and the former leads the way into a final rondo, in which the principal theme has all the simple elegance of a minuet. Three sets of cadenzas survive for the first two movements, the first two, at least, designed for the use of earlier pupils, and the third no doubt for use in Vienna in 1782.
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