Saturday, March 28, 2020

Mozart - Piano Concerto No. 23 In A Major K.488

Mozart wrote 23 original works for piano and orchestra, and the usual number of 27 includes the first 4 concertos that were arrangements by him of other composer’s music.  Mozart’s later concertos show how he overcame the problem of balancing a soloist’s material with an orchestra, and in the process he changed the genre and became the creator of a new type of concerto.

The years 1784-1786 saw Mozart gaining most of his living through performances of his music, especially the piano concertos. During this three-year period, he wrote 12 piano concertos, with the 23rd being written in 1786. That is amazing enough, but he also kept on writing other works as well as preparing the premiere of his opera La Nozze di Figaro.

The concerts that featured the concertos were held in various locations around Vienna, with larger areas being preferred (more ticket sales).  The orchestration of the concertos reflects how Mozart took into consideration the size of the venue. The 23rd concerto shows a reduction in forces, possibly for a smaller concert site:  one flute, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns, soloist and strings.  It is the first major orchestral work that omits oboes entirely and replaces them with clarinets. No timpani or trumpets add to the lighter texture of the orchestra.

I. Allegro - As is customary in most of the Mozart concertos, a double exposition begins the movement with the first theme stated by the strings, and then by the woodwinds. The full orchestra plays a short development of this theme until a second theme enters. The second theme is graceful, and moves gently downward.  The winds take up the theme, and afterwards there is a tense section in a minor key that leads this somewhat brief first part of the exposition to the entrance of the soloist.

The soloist begins the second half of the double exposition by taking up the first theme, and expanding and decorating it while the orchestra accompanies.  The second theme is treated likewise until a third theme not heard in the beginning is played in the strings. The piano plays a decorated version of this theme.

The development section deals with the third theme with tonalities in major as well as minor. The development section is relatively short, and the recapitulation begins with the first theme in the home key.  The second theme is restated, and after the third theme makes an appearance the orchestra come to a pause for the soloist’s cadenza, written by Mozart and included in the score.   After the brilliant cadenza, the orchestra gently chugs to a close in the home key.

II. Adagio - Written in the key of F-sharp minor, this movement is unique to all the concertos as it is the only one written in that key. The piano begins by playing a gently rocking, melancholy theme. The orchestra comments upon it, and then the soloist expands on it. A short exchange with the orchestra and soloist switches keys from E major to B major, before a middle section emerges in the key of A major. This gives slight relief of the sadness as the piano resumes the main theme. The orchestra and piano slowly move through the secondary material until a coda is reached. With violas and basses playing pizzicato and the violins filling in off the beat, the piano plays a simple addition until the movement quietly ends in F-sharp minor. 

III. Allegro assai - Whatever sadness afflicts the 2nd movement is swept away with the finale. The piano enters with a bouncy theme, just one of the many episodes in this movement that are exchanged between piano and orchestra.  An episode of mention has the piano play up the A major scale and triad as the 1st and 2nd violins along with the violas play chords pizzicato. The orchestra ends the movement in the home key and a concerto filled with Mozartean tunes and themes.

1 comment: