Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Piano Concerto no. 20 in D minor K. 466 Wolfgang Amadeus MozartPiano Concerto no. 21 in C major K. 467 Wolfgang Amadeus MozartPiano Concerto no. 27 in B-flat major K. 595 Leader and ConductorPierre-Laurent Aimard
A Conversation Among Equals
The 2011 summer festival at the Festspielhaus Baden-Baden is dedicated to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Alongside its concert version of Don Giovanni, the MCO will perform two symphonic concerts: Yannick Nézet-Séguin will conduct the last three symphonies, and Pierre-Laurent Aimard will lead a concert featuring the piano concerts in D minor, C major, and B-flat major.
The piano concerto – and indeed the piano itself – have a special place in Mozart’s oeuvre. Not only was the composer himself a virtuosic pianoforte player who composed more for that instrument than for any other, he led the genre to develop in an entirely new direction. He returned to the piano concerto again and again throughout his life: the first “real” concerto was composed in 1773, and his last in 1791. The instrument was the provenance of ambitious amateurs for a quite some time; until around 1750, chamber music for string trio, quartet and quintet was valued much more highly than compositions with keyboard. Likewise, in solo sonatas for violin and cembalo, the cembalo functioned strictly as accompaniment. Later, however, the relationship reversed.
Mozart drew inspiration for his piano works from Georg Christoph Wagenseil, whose works he had studied as a child, and Johann Christian Bach, three of whose piano sonatas he arranged as concertos. Mozart’s most significant contributions to the genre include the melding of symphonic and concerto-like elements and the emancipation of the orchestra in comparison to the expressive solo instrument; Beethoven continued developing the genre in this direction. Soloist and orchestra are equal partners in the dialogue – this is not to say, of course, that the dialogue is without controversy.
An example: the Piano Concerto in D minor K. 466 from 1785. This concerto combines passion, pathos and drama. The first movement depicts two partners (or opponents?) engaged in a seemingly unresolvable conflict. After a moment of peace in the Romance, the dualism erupts again in the third movement, and is calmed at the very last minute by a switch from minor to major in the coda.
Written just a few weeks after K. 466, K. 467 in C major returns to a more symphonic style. The dialogue between piano and orchestra plays out less dramatically, more untroubled: harmony perseveres. Nevertheless, the concerto offers a plethora of diverse themes and motives; beauty, in this case, does not come at the cost of complexity. The challenging solo part demands a real virtuoso (Mozart himself soloed at the premiere, as part of a concert dedicated solely to his works), making this concerto one of Mozart’s most beloved.
The last piano concerto in B-flat major, composed in the year of Mozart’s death, was not granted such a premiere. In Vienna, the composer had already fallen from grace, and the concerto was premiered as part of a recital put on by the clarinetist Joseph Bähr. The work expresses the resignation and weariness present in Mozart’s letters from the time, but also has hopeful elements. Seen within its context, the concerto is often said to be a farewell work which unifies mourning and a resigned sense of joy which looks beyond life (Alfred Einstein: “The farewell is simultaneously the certainty of immortality).
The French pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard will lead the concert from his seat at the piano. Mr. Aimard has been a partner to the MCO for many years; most recently he invited the orchestra to perform at the Aldeburgh Festival 2009, of which he had shortly before become Artistic Director. Mr. Aimard is equally at home with contemporary works as with pieces from the classical repertoire. His recordings of the piano concertos nos. 17 and 18 received the MIDEM prize, and he is known as one of the most intelligent and precise Mozart performers worldwide.