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8.550210 - MOZART: Piano Concertos Nos. 7, 10 and 15
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791)
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of the eighteenth century also brought considerable changes in keyboard instruments, as the harpsichord was gradually superseded by the fortepiano or pianoforte, with its hammer action, an instrument capable of dynamic nuances impossible on the older instrument, while the hammer-action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 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, 9 February. The Concerto in B flat, K. 450, is entered as completed on 15 March and the Concerto in D major, K. 451, under 22 March.
The B flat Concerto, K.450, shares its opening theme between wind instruments and strings, the soloist capping the orchestral exposition with a show of dexterity before proceeding to his own version of the principal theme and a solo part that makes use of the widest range of the keyboard. There is an E flat major slow movement which allows the soloist further opportunity for lyrical brilliance in variations on the theme, and a final rondo based on a cheerful principal theme.
The Concerto in F, K. 242, known sometimes as the Lodron Concerto, was written in February 1776 and designed for Countess Antonia Lodron and her daughters Aloisia and Josepha, with due allowance, in the original version, for the limited technique of the younger girl. Mozart later arranged the work for two pianos. It formed part of his repertoire on the journey to Paris and he played the second piano part himself in Augsburg, his father’s native city, in October 1777, when the Augsburg cathedral organist Johann Michael Demmler played the first part and the distinguished instrument-maker Andreas Stein the third. It was played in Mannheim in March 1778, two days before Mozart and his mother left for Paris, the performers being Rose Cannabich, daughter of the director of instrumental music in Mannheim, Aloisia Weber, the young singer on whom Mozart had at the time set his heart, and Therese Pierron Serrarious, daughter of the Mannheim Privy Court Councillor, in whose house Mozart was staying. The Lodrons were people of some importance in Salzburg. Countess Antonia Lodron, before her marriage Countess Arco, was the wife of the hereditary Court Marshal Count Ernst Lodron, and a woman about whom Leopold Mozart had his own reservations when he found himself inveigled into giving her daughters lessons.
The concerto is a work of considerable charm and even brilliance, in spite of the relatively limited circumstances of its composition, intended for three amateurs, rather than the very much more professional performers it had in Augsburg and, we must suppose, in Mannheim. Mozart shows his genius, as other composers have done, in writing within these restrictions of technique, reminding us, in the words of Goethe, that in der Beschränkung zeight sich erst der Meister. There is an elegant interplay between the three keyboard instruments and the work is scored, otherwise, for the usual orchestra, with pairs of oboes and horns. The strings are muted in the slow movement, and in the final rondo, in the speed of a minuet, the Countess and occasionally her eider daughter are allowed to shine in solitary prominence.
The E flat double concerto, K. 365 offers balanced and well-matched solo parts. There was no need to make any concession to the undoubted abilities either of Nannerl Mozart or of Josephine von Auernhammer, whatever view Mozart might have held of the physical attributes of the latter. As usual the appearance of the soloists is delayed until after an orchestral exposition, followed by the entry of the soloists on an E flat trill, after which they take it in turns to announce the principal theme again and to proceed to music in which they have the main share of themes to themselves.
The B flat slow movement touches on more sombre thoughts in a brief excursion into C minor, but a mood of graceful serenity prevails over any lurking sense of tragedy, for which the time had not yet come. The final rondo is introduced by the orchestra with the principal theme, which is followed by the soloists with different material. The re-appearance of the principal theme is followed by a section in C minor, after which the second piano leads the way back to the main theme. Further developments follow before the theme is re-introduced, ushering in a cadenza and the soloists’ repetition of the theme, before the concluding remarks of the orchestra.
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