Movement 1: Allegro
Movement 2: Larghetto
Movement 3: Allegro
As of 1788 Mozart no longer organized concerts of his own. Perhaps he had outgrown his audience just as he had outgrown Salzburg. The music publisher Hoffmeister advised him to write compositions that would be more popular and not so difficult, otherwise he couldn’t continue to publish them—to which Mozart’s reply was: ‘Then I can make no more by my pen, and I had better starve, and go to destruction at once.’ His opera Così fan tutte was premiered in 1790, but only given a few performances before the Emperor’s death put an end to that. To make things worse Constanze was often ill and he was left with only two pupils. The new Emperor, Leopold II, wasn’t at all interested in music, and treated Mozart with contempt.
At the beginning of 1791, however, things were much brighter and Mozart began what was to be an amazing year of productivity. Besides the piano concerto, he wrote a large number of dances for the Vienna ball season, pieces for mechanical organ and glass harmonica, a string quintet, the operas La clemenza di Tito and Die Zauberflöte, the Clarinet Concerto, Ave verum corpus, and finally the Requiem. Nothing suggested that this year would be his last. True, in the spring he suffered from severe headaches and toothache, but even his last surviving letter to his wife in mid-October was upbeat in tone. Still, the mood of this final piano concerto is far removed from that of the G major, written seven years previously.
In K453 the first violins begin alone. In K595 all the other strings begin with a pulsating, rocking accompaniment. The firsts then enter with a sweetly sighing melody that comes in three parts, each time surprisingly closing in the tonic, and twice interrupted by that march-like motif (as we have in K453) in the winds. Even if there are moments of high spirits in this movement, they are few, and most of it is shot through with a great deal of melancholy. A descending scale theme comes first in major mode, but then is repeated in a tortured, flat-ridden version. The development section begins with the piano stating the theme in the most remote key possible—B minor—then going through C major on its way to E flat minor. The daring modulations, even for Mozart, continue in a passage where the counterpoint between piano and winds reaches a climax. In the bridge to the cadenza (Mozart’s own), which is usually the domain of the orchestra, the piano participates, adding its own tender, bittersweet commentary.
Perhaps because of the constant harmonic shifts in this opening movement, Mozart made the following Larghetto almost drastically simple in that regard. The descending scale makes another appearance, but is at peace with itself. The right hand as soloist soars and floats above the rest, with a longing and poignancy that is anything but naïve. Marked alla breve, I feel this movement, as in Baroque music, should not be taken too slowly, due to the relatively simple harmonic structure.
The last movement could be (and frequently is) played in the same spirit as many of Mozart’s finales. I feel this would be a mistake. True, the theme, on first acquaintance, looks cheery enough, but there is much more behind it as well as the brilliant passagework that comes later. Mozart loved to dance—indeed ‘Ochelley’ wrote that Constanze said her husband really preferred the art of dance to that of music—and this movement has to do just that. There is one part in it that always has me in tears and gives me the shivers: the moment in which the orchestra rejoins the soloist after the final cadenza, during the last statement of the theme. It is wondrous. We know, of course, that Mozart died eleven months after writing this. He would have been oblivious. But did he somehow sense this already? One wonders. The next composition entered in his notebook, only nine days later, was a song entitled Sehnsucht nach dem Frühlinge, the words of which are:
Come, sweet May, and turn
The trees green again,
And make the little violets
Bloom for me by the brook!
The music is almost the same. Mozart was looking forward to what ended up being his last spring. In this the last of his great piano concertos, he left us the most powerful message of all.
from notes by Angela Hewitt © 2013