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ClassicsOnline Home » MOZART: Piano Concertos Nos. 23 and 24
BBC Radio 3
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 - 1791)
Piano Concerto No.23 in A Major, K. 488
Piano Concerto No.24 in C Minor, K. 491
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 w rote 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gradually superseded by the fortepiano or pianoforte, with its hammer action, an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.
Mozart completed his Piano Concerto in A major, K. 488, on 2nd March 1786.
Like its predecessor in E flat, K. 482, it
was designed for use in a series of three subscription concerts that Mozart had arranged
for part of the winter season at a time when he was busy with the composition of his first
Italian opera for Vienna, Le nozze di Figaro
- the first if we discount the abortive La finta
semplice of 1768. The commission was a distinct honour for a German composer,
since the re-established Italian opera was dominated by Italian composers, who might be
supposed to have had more skill in the art. Mozart mentions the concerto, among others, in
a letter to Sebastian Winter, a former servant in Leopold Mozart's employ, who had entered
the service of Prince von Förstenberg in Donaueschingen as friseur some twenty years
earlier, and now sought to acquire compositions by Mozart for his master. He adds, while
seeking a permanent stipend from the prince in return for whatever compositions he
requires, that if clarinets are not. available in Donaueschingen the clarinet parts of the
A major Concerto may be played on violin and viola.
The strings open the concerto, echoed
by the wind, and all lead forward to the string announcement of a second subject that has
a hint, at least, of sadder things. This material is duly expanded by the soloist, but
with less freedom than has often been the case in earlier concertos of this kind. The
central development starts with a new theme, capped by the soloist and later varied and
extended, before the recapitulation, with its cadenza by the composer.
The slow movement of the concerto, in
F sharp minor, opens with the soloist and the principal theme, one imbued with melancholy.
The wind introduces a more cheerful theme, to which the second clarinet adds a
characteristic accompaniment, before the soloist takes up the same strain, before the
return of the main theme of the movement. The final rondo is prodigal in its invention and
energy, largely dispelling the sorrows hinted in the first movement and openly expressed
in the second.
The second of the two piano concertos
that Mozart wrote in a minor key, the Concerto in C
minor, K. 491, was completed on 24th March 1786. On 7th April Mozart gave his
last concert in the Burgtheater, the third of a series, including in the programme the new
concerto. At the beginning of May his new opera Le
nozze di Figaro was performed for the first time, while the previous month had
brought a new one-act Singspiel, Der Schauspieldirektor;
performed at the palace of Schönbrunn on 7th February together with the successful
Salieri Italian comedy Prima la musica poi le parole.
minor Concerto is scored for clarinets and oboes, as well as flute, pairs of
bassoons, horns, trumpets and drums, and strings. The work opens with the strings
announcing an ominous theme, the inspiration for Beethoven's later C minor Piano Concerto,
the chief substance of the orchestral exposition. The soloist introduces a new strain,
before joining the orchestral statement of the principal theme, which is now developed.
The movement continues in a mood that is seldom broken, even by the tranquillity of a
second theme, later to be tragically transformed. The second movement, marked Larghetto on
the autograph in a hand other than the composer's, is in the key of E flat major and
intervening episodes are framed by the principal melody, declared at the outset by the
soloist. The music moves soon into sadder key of C minor, led by the woodwind, brightened
by the serenity of a later episode, before the final return of the opening. The final
movement is in the form of a set of variations, the first transformation entrusted to the
soloist, followed by the woodwind, to which the clarinets add their own special character.
The eighth and final variation, introduced by the soloist, leads to the final section of
the work, the minor key maintained to the very end.
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. Jandó 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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MOZART: Piano Concertos Nos. 23 and 24