MOZART: Piano Concertos Nos. 17 and 18
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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 - 1791)
Piano Concerto No.17 in G Major, K. 453
Piano Concerto No.18 in B Flat Major, K. 456
The solo concerto had become, during the eighteenth century, animportant vehicle for composer-performers, a form of music that had developed from thework of Johann Sebastian Bach, through his much admired sons Carl Philipp Emanuel andJohann Christian, to provide a happy synthesis of solo and orchestral performance. Mozartw rote his first numbered piano concertos, arrangements derived from other composers, in1767, undertaking further arrangements from Johann Christian Bach a few years later. Hisfirst 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 pianoconcertos, the last of these for two pianos after his return from Paris. The remainingseventeen piano concertos were written in Vienna, principally for his own use in thesubscription concerts that he organised there during the last decade of his life.
The second half of the eighteenth century also broughtconsiderable changes in keyboard instruments, as the harpsichord was gradually supersededby the fortepiano or pianoforte, with its hammer action, an instrument capable of dynamicnuances impossible on the older instrument, while the hammer-action clavichord from whichthe piano developed had too little carrying power for public performance. The instrumentsMozart had in Vienna, by the best contemporary makers, had a lighter touch than the modernpiano, with action and leather-padded hammers that made greater delicacy of articulationpossible, 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 contemporariesrough and harsh.
In 1784 Mozart found himself much in demand in Vienna as aperformer. His mornings, he explained to his father, by way of excuse for writing to himso infrequently, were taken up with pupils and nearly every evening with playing, and forhis performances he was obliged to provide new music. The Piano Concerto in G major, K. 453, was the fourth ofsix written during the year, and bears the date 12th April in the index of hiscompositions that Mozart had begun to keep. It was written for his pupil Barbara vonPloyer, who played it during a concert at her father's summer residence in June, anoccasion to which Mozart had invited the composer Paisiello to hear both his pupil andthis and other new compositions.
The concerto is scored for flute, with pairs of oboes, bassoonsand horns and the usual strings. The opening orchestral exposition brings its ownsurprising shift of tonality before the entry of the soloist with the first subject and amovement that continues with occasional darkening of colour and with a miraculousinterweaving of wind instruments with the rest of the orchestra to which they are nolonger an optional addition. The C major slow movement, an Andante rather than an Adagio,as Mozart stresses in his letters home, opens with an orchestral statement of theprincipal theme, followed by brief contrapuntal interplay between the wind instruments,the soloist leading the theme into a darker mood. The concerto ends with a movement ofwhich the principal theme was apparently echoed by Mozart's pet starling, transcribed intothe notebook in which he was keeping his accounts and writing exercises in English, withthe comment Das war schon! The theme, with all the simplicity of a folk-song, is followedby five variations and an extended coda. Original cadenzas survive for the first twomovements.
Mozart completed his PianoConcerto in B fiat major, K. 456, on 30th September 1784, nearly six monthsafter its immediate predecessor. In a year in which he confined his attention toinstrumental music he had followed the G majorConcerto, K. 453, with a violin sonata for the Mantuan Regina Strinasacchi, andtwo sets of keyboard variations. In September he caught a bad cold and became seriouslyill, the result of exposure to the cold night air after the heat of the opera-house, wherehe had been attending a performance of a new opera by Paisiello. On 21st SeptemberGonstanze gave birth to Mozart's second child, Karl Thomas, and a week later, atMichaelmas, the family moved house. The new concerto was written for the blind pianistMaria Theresia von Paradis, daughter of the imperial court secretary, apparently for heruse during a stay in Paris, where, escorted by Salieri, she won success as a pianist,singer and composer.
The concerto is scored for flute, pairs of oboes, bassoons andhorns, and strings. The customary orchestral exposition is followed by the soloist's entrywith the first subject, expanded in music that was well suited to the touch, fluency andvividness attributed to Paradis by a Parisian critic. The G minor slow movement is in theform of a theme and variations, giving scope for delicate arpeggiated embellishments ofthe theme by the soloist, with wind instruments entrusted with the opening of a G majorvariation, before the minor key is restored and the movement proceeds to a close. The lastmovement is introduced by the soloist, who announces the principal theme of the rondo,with momentary touches of deeper drama and a curious and brief passage of syncopation,when the soloist breaks rhythm with the orchestra, before it resumes w hat is here atempestuous course. Alternative cadenzas by Mozart for the first and last movements havebeen preserved.
Jeno Jando was born at Pecs, in south Hungary , in 1952. Hestarted to learn the piano when he was seven and later studied at the Ferenc Liszt Academyof Music under Katalin Nemes and Pal Kadosa, becoming assistant to the latter on hisgraduation in 1974. Jand6 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 thechamber music category at the Sydney International Piano Competition in 1977. He iscurrently engaged in a project to record all Mozart's piano concertos for Naxos.