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ClassicsOnline Home » MOZART, W.A.: Piano Concertos Nos. 20 and 21 (Jando, Concentus Hungaricus, A. Ligeti)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 - 1791)
Piano Concerto No.21 in C Major, K. 467
Piano Concerto No.20 in D Minor, K. 466
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. 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of the eighteenth century also brought considerable changes in keyboard instruments, as the harpsichord was gradually superseded by the fortepiano or pianoforte, with its hammer action, an instrument capable of dynamic nuances impossible on the older instrument, while the hammer-action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 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, the Salzburg Vice-Kapellmeister Leopold Mozart, was present.
Leopold Mozart 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 D Minor Piano Concerto, the first of Mozart's piano concertos in a minor key, to be followed a year later by the C Minor Concerto, adds a new dimension of high seriousness to the form, a mood apparent in the dramatic orchestral opening, with its mounting tension as the wind instruments gradually join the strings. The concerto is scored for trumpets and drums, as well as the now usual flute, pairs of oboes, bassoons and horns, with strings, the violas divided. 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. Trumpets and drums are, according to custom, omitted from the movement, but return for 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, provided cadenzas for the first and last movements.
Mozart's Piano Concerto in C Major, K. 467, was entered in his catalogue of compositions with the date 9th March, 1785, a month after his D Minor Concerto. Like its immediate predecessor it 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 11th 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 remarks is constantly being taken out of the house for concerts at the Mehlgrube or in the houses of the aristrocracy.
The opening bars of the exposition, 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 G Minor Symphony from the soloist leads to the happier mood of the true second subject, echoed by the woodwind and 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. Trumpets and drums return for the final rondo, its principal theme announced by the orchestra and repeated by the soloist. The movement provides a relaxation of mood, a carefully balanced and lighter conclusion to a concerto of much substance.
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MOZART, W.A.: Piano Concertos Nos. 20 and 21 (Jand...