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Piano Concerto No 9 in E flat major 'Jeunehomme', K271
January 1777; inscribed 'das für die jenomy', recently identified as Victoire Jenamy but previously believed to be a phonetic spelling of 'jeunehomme'

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Movement 1: Allegro
Movement 2: Andantino
Movement 3: Rondeau: Presto

Piano Concerto No 9 in E flat major 'Jeunehomme', K271
Almost exactly one hundred years ago, in a biography of Mozart written by Théodor Wyzewa and Georges de Saint-Foix, the name of ‘Mademoiselle Jeunehomme’ began to appear in connection with the Concerto in E flat major, K271. Mozart himself had never written of anyone by that name, but rather described the concerto, after he had composed it in January 1777, as ‘das für die jenomy’ (the one for the Jenomy). His father Leopold also made a reference to ‘Madame genomai’. Presumably those biographers thought Mozart had for some reason got her name wrong, and subsequently one scholar after the next simply copied them and the nickname ‘Jeunehomme’ was given to the concerto. As late as 1999 one biographer accused Mozart of pronouncing French so badly that he couldn’t even spell correctly.

In 2003 somebody finally decided to research this a bit more. The Viennese musicologist Michael Lorenz discovered the mysterious woman’s identity. Mozart hadn’t been all that wrong: her name was in fact Victoire Jenamy (1749–1812). Her father was the dancer and choreographer Jean-Georges Noverre (1727–1810) who was called by no less than David Garrick ‘the Shakespeare of the Dance’. None of his 150 ballets survive, but his book Lettres sur la danse does. It was he who brought drama into ballet, taking it away from its courtly origins and creating the ‘ballet d’action’ which told of human emotions. Some of this must have rubbed off on his daughter, whose performance of a piano concerto in Vienna in 1773 was executed, according to a local newspaper, ‘with much artistry and ease’. Mozart dined with Noverre in Vienna in 1773, this much we know. His daughter could easily have been present. The year after the Concerto K271 was written, Noverre was back in Paris as ballet master, and when Mozart and his mother arrived there, he wrote to his father that he had an open invitation to dine at Noverre’s home, and that Mme Jenamy was there. Mozart also composed some of the music for his ballet Les petits riens. It is amazing that for almost a hundred years nobody made this connection.

I have perhaps told more about Madame Jenamy’s father than is called for, but for a reason. If he was the one who put drama and human emotion into ballet, then it was Mozart who opened up another world of the piano concerto with this piece written for his daughter. Gone are the gestures made purely to please; in comes the most profound lyrical outpouring imaginable and one which is miraculous for a young man of barely twenty-one years of age. Perhaps the two are linked more than we can ever know.

The surprises begin right at the outset. The piano (and by now it really had to be a fortepiano and not a harpsichord—something which is obvious from the number of dynamic markings in the solo part) simply can’t wait for the orchestra to present all the themes itself, and jumps in already in the second bar, completing their entrance. Mozart kept this concerto unique in his output and never did that again. It immediately establishes a relationship between soloist and orchestra that is closer, more richly entwined than ever before. Besides the usual strings, the scoring is only for two oboes and two horns, but Mozart makes full use of them. At key points the piano is accompanied only by oboes; at another the first horn doubles the soloist. The abundant themes are thrown around from part to part with an astonishing ease. In fact a soloist playing from memory can easily get mixed up in Mozart’s games, forgetting to play something that earlier was given to the orchestra. One theme, first introduced in bar 47, foreshadows the recitative-like passages to come in the next movement. Even after the cadenza (Mozart’s own) that is usually the stopping point for the soloist, Mozart doesn’t give up, but rather has the piano come in once more with the same trill he used for the piano’s ‘proper’ entry at the beginning.

The slow movement is marked Andantino, one of the most confusing of all tempo indications. There are endless debates about whether it means faster or slower than Andante (it seems that in 1777 it would have meant the latter). I say listen to the music and that will decide it for you. Darkness descends where previously there was light. The muted first and second violins play in canon, a Baroque device which Mozart places over a bass line that is totally Baroque in character. Piercing accents give it a ghostly feel. The oboes and horns enter, sustaining a long pedal note, yet another Baroque feature. All of that reminds us that this music is not that far removed from the late Baroque period and how much Mozart was influenced by it. The gesture of a sighing, descending scale is followed by a cadential, recitative-like passage that could not be more operatic. A final, unforgiving judgement is pronounced with two slashing unison crotchets. That all happens in the opening sixteen bars. What follows is a tragic aria ‘sung’ by the solo piano, always supported by the orchestra. The lead-in to the cadenza, usually the domain of the orchestra, is given over at the crucial moment to the piano. The cadenza itself is a miracle of expression, giving a brief second of hope before resolving into almost unbearable pain. Mutes come off for the final exclamation in the strings. As Michael Steinberg so aptly puts it: this is the concerto in which ‘Mozart, so to speak, became Mozart’.

High spirits immediately return for the final Rondeau, marked Presto. The 34-bar opening theme stated by the piano is the longest by far in any of the concertos. The ensuing action is constant and exciting, only interrupted by an Eingang (for which Mozart left a choice of two) and then, after some more high jinks, the final surprise of the piece—a minuet. This is one of those goosebump moments, especially when the strings enter, pizzicato and muted. Was this a tribute to Noverre the dancer? It could have been. Another Eingang in the piano deftly leads back to the energy of the Presto, and the concerto closes in the joyful mood in which it began.

from notes by Angela Hewitt © 2011

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Details for CDA67840 track 8
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 8
    Release date: October 2011
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