Movement 1: Allegro
Movement 1: Cadenza (Godowsky)
Movement 1: Cadenza (Hummel)
Movement 2: Larghetto
Movement 3: Allegretto
What makes this piece so different from Mozart’s other piano concertos? For one thing, the orchestra is large (this is the only Mozart piano concerto with both oboes and clarinets). For this piece Mozart used a rare type of paper ruled with sixteen staves. The autograph is in the collection of the Royal College of Music in London and is available in facsimile. It is nothing short of astonishing. In every way it reflects the unrest he must have felt at the time. His usual neatness has gone, and the autograph contains the earliest sketches right through to the final revisions, all rolled into one, with numerous crossings out and even funny little self-portraits to lead one to passages that got misplaced. Mozart wrote out the solo part (sometimes only abbreviated) after the rest and he ran out of space, having to write it in the staves for the trumpets and timpani. At one point in the slow movement, where the piano clashes with the winds, there is an obvious mistake.
The opening theme of the first movement uses all twelve tones of the scale. The time signature of 3/4 is uncommon (it’s also used in K449, but the feeling could not be more different). The rhythm of the chaconne, as Paul Badura-Skoda points out, is prominent. (There must be something linking C minor to unison writing. This concerto starts in unison as does Mozart’s C minor Piano Sonata, K457, the C minor Fantasy, K475, Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No 3, and the last movement of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata, Op 10 No 1.) In K491 the contours of the opening melody drag us downwards into despair. All of the themes Mozart uses in the first movement are somehow related to this opening material. They never escape it. Interestingly, though, the piano never openly states this main theme, but enters with its own lament (again using those wide leaps). The passage-work (not least in the remarkable coda) is all in a whirl, reflecting a feeling of hopelessness.
Mozart began the second movement but only wrote three bars before he changed his mind. It is interesting to see his first thoughts—a melody with more frills than the one he finally gave us. There is nowhere to hide in this drastically simple tune, first stated by the piano and then repeated like a chorus by the orchestra. When the piano continues its song, accompanied by the orchestra, a huge amount of emotion lies behind the apparently simple notes. The movement is in rondo form, and the episodes—the first in C minor, the second in A flat major—are given to the winds and then embellished by the piano and strings. A beautiful coda rounds off the movement.
Another rondo was out of the question, so instead Mozart turned to variation form for the finale. The tune could easily be completely gloomy if it wasn’t for the grace notes in the sixth and seventh bars. Most people see this as a march. I think it begins more like a sinister dance with its alla breve time signature. There’s still something of the Baroque in Mozart’s inspiration. The first two variations get increasingly busy, with whirling figures in the piano part. These come to the fore in the third variation (which is indeed march-like) in which the second violins have their moment. The change to A flat major in the fourth variation brings with it an abrupt change of mood. That part has always sounded to me as though some street musicians suddenly enter the scene, passing by the window, blissfully unaware of any tragic feelings. The fifth variation is amazing: beautiful counterpoint in the piano; then the scales in the left hand which we heard before in the second violins combine with the march-like rhythm in the right hand. C major enters for the sixth variation and tempts us into thinking the piece might end happily. It doesn’t. The original theme returns with interjections from the piano and winds. It builds up to a pause, and a brief cadenza. For the last variation, Mozart changes to 6/8—a time signature for the dance, if ever there was one. The piano begins, hesitatingly. The orchestra then joins in what becomes a whirling danse macabre, tormenting the soul until the very end.
from notes by Angela Hewitt © 2014