MOZART: Piano Concertos Nos. 13 and 20
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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 - 1791)
Piano Concerto No.20 in D Minor, K. 466
Piano Concerto No.13 in C Major, K. 415
The solo concerto had become, during the eighteenth century, animportant vehicle for composer-performers, a form of music that had developedfrom the work of Johann Sebastian Bach, through his much admired sons CarlPhilipp Emanuel and Johann Christian, to provide a happy synthesis of solo andorchestral performance. Mozart wrote his first numbered piano concertos,arrangements derived from other composers, in 1767, undertaking furtherarrangements from Johann Christian Bach a few years later. His first attempt atwriting a concerto, however, had been at the age of four or five, described bya friend of the family as a smudge of notes, although, his father claimed, verycorrectly composed. In Salzburg as an adolescent Mozart wrote half a dozenpiano concertos, the last of these for two pianos after his return from Paris.
The remaining seventeen piano concertos were written in Vienna, principally forhis own use in the subscription concerts that he organised there during thelast decade of his life. The second half of the eighteenth century also broughtconsiderable changes in keyboard instruments, as the harpsichord was graduallysuperseded by the fortepiano or pianoforte, with its hammer action, aninstrument capable of dynamic nuances impossible on the older instrument, whilethe hammer-action clavichord from which the piano developed had too littlecarrying power for public performance. The instruments Mozart had in Vienna, bythe best contemporary makers, had a lighter touch than the modern piano, withaction and leather-padded hammers that made greater delicacy of articulationpossible, among other differences. They seem well suited to Mozart's own styleof playing, by comparison with which the later virtuosity of Beethoven seemedto some contemporaries rough and harsh.
Mozart entered the Piano Concerto inD Minor, K. 466, in his new catalogue of compositions on 10thFebruary, 1785. It received its first performance at the Mehlgrube in Viennathe following day in a concert at which the composer's father, the SalzburgVice-Kapellmeister Leopold Mozart, was present.
Leopold Mozart sent his daughter a description of the first of hisson's Lenten subscription concerts, remarking particularly on the fine newconcerto that was performed, a work that the copyist was still writing out whenhe arrived, so that there had been no time to rehearse the final rondo. Hefound 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 wasimmensely gratified by Wolfgang's obvious success. The next day Haydn came tothe apartment in Schulerstrasse and Mozart's second group of quartets dedicatedto 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 yearlater by the C Minor Concerto,adds a new dimension of high seriousness to the form, a mood apparent in thedramatic orchestral opening, with its mounting tension as the wind instrumentsgradually join the strings. The concerto is scored for trumpets and drums, aswell 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 orchestralexposition that has announced the principal material of the movement, and laterextends the second subject in a work in which the recurrent sombre mood of theopening 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 thesoloist, re-appears, framing intervening episodes. Its key of B Flat Majorprovides a gentle contrast to the first movement, with a dramatic return to theminor, G Minor, in the second episode. Trumpets and drums are, according tocustom, omitted from the movement, but return for the final rondo, into whichthe soloist leads the way, again in the original key of D Minor. A triumphant DMajor version of an earlier theme interrupts a repetition of the minorprincipal subject, after the cadenza, and brings the concerto to an end.
Cadenzas were presumably improvised by Mozart, and not written out, as theywould 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 fromstudying with Mozart in Vienna, provided cadenzas for the first and lastmovements.
Writing to his father in Salzburg three years earlier, on 28th December1782, Mozart, full of hope and enthusiasm, describes the set of three pianoconcertos that he was to announce in January for his proposed subscriptionconcerts, works that were to be a happy medium between the easy and thedifficult, brilliant and pleasing, without being empty, with elements thatwould afford satisfaction not only to the knowledgeable, but provide pleasureto the less perceptive, although they would not know why. He was busy at thesame time as a teacher and performer, while completing a piano arrangement ofhis German opera Die Entf??hrung aus demSerail, which had proved very successful when it had been staged atthe Burgtheater in July. At the same time he had started work setting an ode onGibraltar, written by a Jesuit, commissioned by a Hungarian lady, and nevercompleted. On 15th January subscriptions were solicited in the Wiener Zeitung for the three concertos,with optional wind parts, allowing performance also with the accompaniment ofonly a string quartet. Money was slow in coming in, and in April Mozart waswriting to the publisher Sieber in Paris offering the three concertos, which heclaimed could be performed with full orchestra, the French preference, withoboes and horns, or simply with four-part string accompaniment. The concertos,K. 413 - 415, were published in 1785 by Artaria in Vienna.
The third concerto of the set, in C Major, written early in 1783, wasfirst performed in the presence of the Emperor at a concert in the Burgtheateron 23rd March 1783 devoted entirely to the music of Mozart. The programme alsoincluded operatic and concert arias, one sung by Aloisia Lange, the Haffner Symphony, and the early D Major Piano Concerto, with Mozart assoloist. He played the C Major concerto
again at a Burgtheater concert a week later, once more in the presence of theEmperor, these royal occasions allowing the addition of trumpets and drums anda pair of bassoons to the orchestra. The opening would hardly have met withapproval in Paris, which prided itself on the premier coup d'archet, a phrasethat Mozart found ridiculous enough. Instead the first violins enter alone,imitated by the second violins and then by violas, cellos and double basses.
The movement has a larger element of counterpoint than in earlier concertos,and allows the soloist greater chances for display. Originally Mozart hadcontemplated a C Minor slow movement instead of the present F Major Andante, from which trumpets anddrums are, according to general custom, omitted. The final rondo is introducedby the soloist, who follows the orchestral extension of the principal themewith an unexpected Adagio in CMinor, its profounder implications dispelled by the return of the rondo theme.
The movement has a final section which brings surprising further developmentand a reappearance of the Adagio
before the work comes to an end.