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ClassicsOnline Home » MOZART: Piano Concertos Nos. 20 and 21 / HAYDN: Piano Concerto No. 11
Joseph Haydn (1732–1809)
Piano Concerto No. 11 in D Major, Hob. XVIII: 11
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791)
Piano Concerto No.20 in D Minor, K. 466
Piano Concerto No.21 in C Major, K.467 “Elvira Madigan”
Joseph Haydn was born in the village of Rohrau in 1732, the son of a wheelwright. Trained at the choir-school of St Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna, he spent some years earning a living as best he could from teaching and playing the violin or keyboard, and was able to learn from the old musician Porpora, whose assistant he became. Haydn’s first appointment was in 1579 as Kapellmeister to a Bohemian nobleman, Count von Morzin. The was followed in 1761 by employment as Vice Kapellmeister to one of the richest men in the Empire, Prince Paul Anton Esterházy, succeeded on his death in 1762 by his brother Prince Nikolaus. On the death in 1766 of the elderly and somewhat obstructive Kapellmeister, Gregor Werner, Haydn succeeded to his position, to remain in the same employment, nominally at least, for the rest of his life.
On the completion of the magnificent palace at Esterházy in the Hungarian plains under the new Prince, Haydn assumed command of an increased musical establishment. Here he had responsibility for the musical activities of the palace, which included the provision and direction of instrumental music, opera and theatre music for the church. For his patron he provided a quantity of chamber music of all kinds, particularly for the Prince’s own peculiar instrument, the baryton, a bowed string instrument with sympathetic strings that could also be plucked.
On the death of Prince Nikolaus in 1790, Haydn was able to accept an invitation to visit London, where he provided music for the concert season organized by the violinist-impresario Salomon. A second successful visit to London in 1794 and 1795 was followed by a return to duty with the Esterházy family property in Eisenstadt, where Haydn had started his career. Much of the year, was to be spent in Vienna, where Haydn passed his final years, dying in 1809, as the French armies of Napoleon approach the city again.
The Concertos of Haydn have survived only in part and it was a form that he seems, perhaps for practical reasons, to have favored less. In condition to the three surviving violin concertos and a set of five concertos for lira organizzata written in 1786–7 for the King of Naples, there remain five keyboard concertos so described and eight smaller scale works for harpsichord, two violins and cello, known either under the title Concertino or Divertino, the latter composed during the earlier part of Haydn’s career, either during his period of service with Count von Morzin or during his first years at Einstadt with the Esterházys. A number of other concertos of various kinds have been ascribed to Haydn, these with greater or lesser degrees of probability.
The best known of all keyboard concertos either attributed to or indisputably by Haydn is the Concerto in D major, Hob. XVIII: 11, designed for harpsichord or forte piano and written at some time between 1780 and 1783. It is scored for the usual orchestra of two oboes, two horns and strings and appeared in a variety of editions in 1784 and thereafter. The opening orchestral exposition is entrusted to violins and violas, later joined in the whole orchestra before the entry of the soloist. The A major slow movement gives an opportunity for the display of some virtuosity and is followed by a lively and inventive Hungarian Rondo, with episode that suggest the Turkish fashion explored by Mozart in his A major Violin Concerto.
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 smudge of notes, although, his father claimed, very correctly composed. In Salburg as an adolescent Mozart wrote half a dozen piano concertos, the last these for two pianos after his return from Paris. The remaining seventeen piano concertos were written in Vienna, principally for his own use I the subscription concerts that he organized there during the last decade of his life. The second half of the eighteenth century also brought considerable changes in keyboard instrument, as the harpsichord was gradually superseded by the forte piano or piano forte, 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 has too little carrying power for public performance. The instrument Mozart had in Vienna, by the best contemporary makers, had a lighter touch than the modern piano, with the 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 latter 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 the 10th 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, 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 fell 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 Schülerstrasse 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 instrument 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 somber mood of the opening is only momentarily lighten 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 majors provides a gentle contrast to the 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. Cadenza 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 Concert in C Major, K. 467, was entered in his catalogue of compositions with the date 9 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 11 March, the day after the 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 aristocracy.
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 or its own. An expected foretaste of the great G Minor Symphony from the soloist leads to the happier mood of the true second subject, echoed by the wood wind 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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