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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791)
Piano Concerto in B Flat Major, K. 450
Piano Concerto in F Major, K. 242 ‘Lodron’
Piano Concerto in E Flat Major, K. 365
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considerable changes in keyboard instruments, as the harpsichord was gradually superseded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
The Concerto in F, K. 242
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.