Movement 1: Allegro
Movement 2: Andante
Movement 3: Allegro
Two things deserve special mention in this opening movement: the abrupt change to B flat minor, introduced by rather angry chords in the piano, not long after its initial flourishes; and the, for me, haunting moment in the development section when, after a long passage with tortuous runs, the piano breaks forth with a new melody, breathtakingly beautiful in its serenity, but notable also for its brevity. Its only appearance leads us back masterfully to the recapitulation. One has to be wary of older editions of this piece that leave out two bars (at bar 282), not notated in the autograph but found on an additional page of sketches. I believe they were first published in 1961.
What was it that made the Viennese audience demand a repeat of the second movement when they first heard it? Was it their fondness for variation form (used here for only the second—and final—time in a slow movement of a Mozart piano concerto)? Was it the fact that the wind ensemble figures very prominently throughout? Those things probably didn’t hurt, but I think it was something more profound than that. As in his first masterpiece in the genre, the Piano Concerto No 9 in E flat major, K271, Mozart chose the key of C minor to express deep sorrow, if not tragedy. The violins add their mutes, and in so doing sound especially anguished when presenting the opening theme. The piano reiterates their plaintive song, embellishing it not just with notes but also with dramatic pauses that make us catch our breath. The variations alternate between major and minor—the first major one given over to the wind ensemble. Back in the minor, whirling figures in the piano give a sense of hopelessness that we also hear in the C minor Concerto. A lovely duet between flute and bassoon, gently accompanied by the strings, brings some brief respite. The next minor variation opens with an angry orchestra, answered pleadingly by the piano. But what probably did it for that early audience was the coda. Just when all hope seems to have been abandoned, Mozart throws in a dart of sunshine, twice briefly shifting to C major for only one bar. It is a stroke of genius, and it gives me the shivers every time I play this work.
The join into the last movement is also masterful. The finale will be brilliant, yes, but the atmosphere mustn’t be shattered immediately. The piano enters quietly with a pulsating orchestral accompaniment, but with a twinkle in the eye for sure. When the full orchestra takes up the hunting-song theme, we can only smile. Still I feel that even in the piano’s next entry, the sadness of the middle movement hasn’t quite disappeared. Soon, however, things simply get far too busy to be sad. Even Mozart was too busy to write out all the notes. For eleven bars in this movement he only puts in a bare outline, leaving the rest to be filled in by the performer.
Another similarity with the earlier E flat major Concerto, No 9, comes when Mozart interrupts the frolics with a minuet, in this case, an Andantino cantabile. I love what Michael Steinberg writes about this moment: ‘It suggests the Countess from the end of Figaro, drawing from her reservoir of immeasurable grace to forgive her philandering husband.’ Pizzicati from the violins, imitated by the piano, lead to a sorrowful passage that, via a short cadenza, get us back into the movement proper. Everything goes as one might expect until the coda where, in another stroke of genius, the piano comes in with a little tease before letting the orchestra finish.
from notes by Angela Hewitt © 2014