About this Recording
8.573398 - MOZART, W.A.: Piano Concertos Nos. 20 and 21 (arr. I. Lachner for piano, string quartet and double bass) (Goldstein, Fine Arts Quartet, Calin)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791)
Piano Concertos Nos 20, K 466 and 21, K 467
Arranged for piano, string quartet and double bass by Ignaz Lachner (1807–1895)


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 in 1779 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of the eighteenth century also brought considerable changes in keyboard instruments, as the harpsichord was gradually superseded by the fortepiano or pianoforte, with its hammer action, an instrument capable of dynamic nuances impossible on the older instrument, while the hammer-action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 seemed 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.

It was in 1781 that Mozart at last broke away from Salzburg and from his and his father’s employer, the Archbishop of Salzburg, to settle in precarious independence in Vienna. The change of status brought a measure of freedom, but deprived him of the immediate advice of his father, who prudently retained his employment in Salzburg as Vice-Kapellmeister of the archiepiscopal musical establishment. In Vienna Mozart enjoyed initial success, establishing himself as a composer, performer and teacher, and providing, among a wealth of other compositions, a series of piano concertos, primarily for his own use.

Mozart entered the Piano Concerto in D minor, K 466, in his new catalogue of compositions on 10 February 1785. It received its first performance at the Mehlgrube in Vienna the following day in a concert at which the composer’s father was present. Proud of his son’s achievement, the latter 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 Piano Concerto in D minor, the first of Mozart’s piano concertos in a minor key, to be followed a year later by the Concerto in C minor, adds a new dimension of high seriousness to the form, a mood apparent in the dramatic opening, with its mounting tension. 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. In 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, later provided cadenzas for the first and last movements, the first of which is recorded here, followed, in the last movement by the present performer’s own cadenza.

The Piano Concerto in C major, K 467, was entered in Mozart’s catalogue of compositions with the date 9 March, 1785, a month after his D Minor Concerto. Like its immediate predecessor the original concerto 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 11 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 remarked was 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, originally 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 Symphony in G minor, K 550 from the soloist leads to the happier mood of the true second subject, to be 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. The final movement provides a relaxation of mood, a carefully balanced and lighter conclusion to a concerto of much substance. The cadenzas played here are by Alon Goldstein.

The transcriptions of a number of Mozart’s concertos for chamber performance reflect something of the composer’s own approach to works that he thought might enjoy wider circulation in more modest form. In a letter to the Paris publisher J. G. Sieber on 26 April 1783 he suggests that three concertos, K 413, K 414 and K 415, the first he had written in Vienna, could be played with full orchestra, with oboes and horns, or a quattro, and the concertos were so advertised in the Vienna press. The following year, in a letter to his father he reveals his awareness of the commercial dangers of lack of copyright regulation, and suggests that the Concerto in E flat, K 449, could be played in a similarly reduced form, better suited to the domestic circumstances of Salzburg.

Various subsequent transcriptions of Mozart’s concertos were to be made during the nineteenth century by other composers, not least a dozen concertos arranged for piano and string quartet or quintet under the aegis of Sigmund Lebert (né Samuel Levi) in Stuttgart, with transcribers including two of the Lachner brothers, Ignaz and Vinzenz, and Immanuel Faisst. The present arrangements of K 466 and K 467 are by Ignaz Lachner whose career as a conductor and composer had taken him from early days in Vienna to positions in Stuttgart, Munich, Hamburg, Stockholm and elsewhere.

Keith Anderson

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