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Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 20, K. 466 (Jan. 18, 19, and 22 only)
Mozart completed his Piano Concerto No. 23 on February 10, 1785, in Vienna. The première took place on February 11, 1785, in the first of a series of six subscription concerts at the Mehlgrube Casino, in Vienna, with Mozart conducting from the keyboard. It runs approximately 26 minutes in performance and is scored for solo piano, flute, 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, and orchestral strings.
During the nineteenth century, K. 466 was just about the only Mozart concerto anyone played, because its tragic rhetoric appealed to Romantic sensibilities; even today, Mozart’s relatively few, exceptional works in minor keys disproportionately influence his reputation. One of four radically original concertos he composed for his Viennese subscription concerts early in 1785, K. 466 amounts to “a liberation of the genre,” Charles Rosen wrote, “a demonstration that the concerto could stand with equal dignity beside any other musical form, capable of expressing the same depth of feeling, and of working out the most complex musical idea.” It is a concerto of exceptional expressive power. The opening bars establish an atmosphere of tragedy unforgettably, with a quiet, troubled throbbing in the strings that builds to a violent explosion in the full orchestra. Through much of the first movement, the rhythmic momentum is exciting, the orchestration dark and haunting, the interplay of solo and orchestral forces tense and confrontational; moments of serenity and comedy are fleeting. (Mozart, incidentally, left no cadenzas for K. 466, as was typical in concertos he wrote for his own use: he always improvised cadenzas on the spot in concert.)
Mozart labeled the slow movement “Romanze,” a term derived from vocal music and denoting a lyrical piece that was beautiful, tender, and relatively simple in form and style. The courtly elegance of the opening theme promises an idyllic intermezzo, yet the Romanze is not immune to tragic sentiments: at its heart is a long, violent explosion with a stormy, dissonant piano part.
The finale is no playful rondo: Mozart renews the turbulence of the first movement. The opening theme—more gesture than melody—is positively explosive, wild; we hear more driving momentum, more combative rhetoric, more argumentative development. And then, in the final pages, all the accumulated tension dissipates. The key shifts to D major, and a cocky “whistling” tune (heard earlier) is combined with a little horn-and-trumpet call to form a sunny, witty, opera buffa coda. This is no glib resolution, however: for a musician of Mozart’s day, a “happy ending” was an assertion that, even in the face of tragedy, God, order, peace, morality, and sanity ultimately prevail in the universe.
Programme Note by Kevin Bazzana
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