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Piano Concerto No 6 in B flat major, K238
January 1776
first movement cadenza

'Mozart: Piano Concertos Nos 6, 8 & 9' (CDA67840)
Mozart: Piano Concertos Nos 6, 8 & 9
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Movement 1: Allegro aperto
Movement 2: Andante un poco adagio
Movement 3: Rondeau: Allegro

Piano Concerto No 6 in B flat major, K238
When we refer to ‘piano’ concertos we must remember that most people in those days did not own a fortepiano, but rather a harpsichord, and in Salzburg in 1776 there were reportedly no fortepianos at all. So it was certainly on the harpsichord that Wolfgang, and also Nannerl, gave the first performances of his Concerto in B flat major, K238. It would have been the perfect vehicle for showing off the talents of the young players while providing entertainment for the public who attended concerts at court and in salons during carnival and Lent. Containing nothing too demanding on the listener, it nevertheless is completely captivating. I admit to having once considered the early concertos not very interesting, but having now taken this piece into my repertoire I have changed my mind completely.

Scored for keyboard, strings, two oboes and two horns, the first movement is marked Allegro aperto, an adjective that the young Mozart also used in various concertos for violin, flute and oboe. Literally translating as ‘open’ or ‘frank’, we are not sure of the exact meaning of this indication, but surely it denotes radiance and gaiety. There are no undercurrents, nothing ambiguous. In the middle section we do encounter some swirling arpeggios and broken octaves in minor mode, accompanied by plaintive intervals on the oboe, but the episode doesn’t last long. A light though rapid touch on the keyboard is necessary for the proper execution of this music and is not so easy to produce on the modern piano. Although Mozart left a twelve-bar cadenza, it is rather meagre to say the least, so I have written my own.

In the slow movement (Andante un poco adagio) the two oboes are replaced by two flutes to give it a sweeter, more gentle character. The music is simple, varied slightly on its return in a different key; yet I find in it a quality that seems to be the germ for the famous Andante of his C major Piano Concerto, K467, which he wrote some nine years later. There are obvious similarities: the use of a triplet accompaniment, muted strings, and a pizzicato bass. Already we get a glimpse at what became one of his strongest characteristics: the ability to switch between minor and major in a flash, providing a marvellous effect of chiaroscuro.

The Rondeau finale is pure dance music, with elegant rhythmic gestures from both orchestra and soloist. The flutes are dispensed with and the oboes return, but the real interest here is given to the horns, who have a chance to shine. It reminds me of something Mozart apparently said to his sister in 1764 at eight years of age. They were in London and their father was gravely ill and needed silence in the house. Unable thus to play the clavier, Wolfgang sat about composing his first symphony, and as he went along he told Nannerl to remind him ‘to give the horns something worthwhile to do’. Their joyful contributions add a lot of character to this finale. So does the middle section in G minor which is the one really virtuoso page of the concerto, requiring some very nimble Baroque-style fingerwork. The repeated broken octaves in the right hand remind me of François Couperin’s harpsichord piece Le Réveil-matin (‘The alarm clock’). The short cadenza in this case is Mozart’s own, although the Eingänge (brief cadenzas where the music stops on a pause) must be improvised by the performer. Something in the nature of this rondo theme prompted me to take it slightly under tempo for its final statement by the solo piano, thus giving time to ornament it more fully, before the orchestra regains the momentum. The end is unassuming, giving the last smile to the oboe.

from notes by Angela Hewitt © 2011

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Details for CDA67840 track 2
Andante un poco adagio
Recording date
2 December 2010
Recording venue
Das Kulturzentrum Grand Hotel, Dobbiaco, Italy
Recording producer
Ludger Böckenhoff
Recording engineer
Stephan Reh
Hyperion usage
  1. Mozart: Piano Concertos Nos 6, 8 & 9 (CDA67840)
    Disc 1 Track 2
    Release date: October 2011
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