February 8 – Thursday at 7:30 p.m.
February 9 – Friday at 8:00 p.m.
February 10 – Saturday at 8:00 p.m.
MITSUKO UCHIDA’S MOZART
Piano Concerto No. 27 in B-flat major, K595
Wolfgang Amadè Mozart (1756-1791)
At a Glance
Mozart composed most of this concerto in 1788 in preparation for a concert that never took place. He completed the work in 1791 and performed the solo part at its first performance on March 4, 1791, in Vienna. This was Mozart’s final appearance as a concerto soloist before his death on December 5.
This concerto runs about 30 minutes in performance. Mozart scored it for flute, 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, and strings, plus solo pianoforte.
The Cleveland Orchestra first performed this concerto in April 1948, under George Szell’s direction with Robert Casadesus as soloist. It has been programmed with some frequency since that time, mostly recently at Severance Hall in November 2010 with Mitsuko Uchida and at the 2014 Blossom Music Festival 2014 with pianist Francisco Piemontesi conducted by Brett Mitchell.
About the Music
This concerto is the last in Mozart’s incomparable series of twenty-three solo piano concertos. He completed it on January 5, 1791, and entered the date in his catalogue. It has been associated with the pianist Maria Magdalena Hofdemel, but the association is tenuous, since the one Vienna performance was given not by her but by Mozart himself on March 4, 1791, nine months before his death. Were the solo cadenzas written out for her perhaps? It’s possible, although Jan Vitasek, who played the concerto in Prague a few weeks later, would have needed cadenzas, too.
Research of British musicologist Alan Tyson, who examined every surviving scrap of music paper Mozart ever wrote on, has recently settled the matter. The concerto was almost entirely composed three years earlier, in 1788, and was evidently not written with anyone in mind — Mozart did not know the Hofdemels then (so far as we know). As in the case of the last three symphonies, also composed in 1788, he probably proposed to organize a concert series for that year in which the concerto might be featured. As soon as the proposal (and the hoped-for profit its ticket sales would bring) failed, he gave up working on the piece.
At the beginning of 1791, the clarinetist Joseph Beer approached Mozart and asked the composer to take part in a concert on March 4. This gave Mozart cause to finish a “new work” and he pulled the three-year-old concerto out of his papers and finished it up. He only had a few pages of the finale to write.
The concert became historic in many ways, being the last time Mozart played the piano in public. It was given in a restaurant across the street from his lodgings, and the soprano soloist whom Beer also invited to take part was none other than Aloysia Weber, sister of Mozart’s wife, Constanze, and his adorata of some twelve years before.
Concerto No. 27 is a strikingly serene work, even allowing for the brilliance always required in a concerto, with signs of a new level of maturity in Mozart’s style. Outwardly, the concerto resembles the composer’s others in its three balanced movements, judiciously placed cadenzas, and a tranquil middle movement of great beauty.
This work profoundly affected Beethoven, whose concertos offer many echoes of individual phrases and combinations. His Third Piano Concerto in C minor, for example, opens with a similar rising triad followed by a descending scale much as we find here. Mozart, however, softens the drama in his opening movement (Allegro) by allowing one bar’s gentle introduction and by keeping a steadily pulsating tonic bass underneath his melody. A second theme, which follows soon after, presents a plain descending scale:
followed by the “same” descending scale no longer plain but, modified with flat and natural signs, almost as contortedly chromatic as he could devise:
This sort of musical teasing must have given Mozart particular delight. The movement’s development section is easily recognizable for its rather unsubtle moving through remote keys; the solo cadenza, on the other hand, stays close to the home key.
In the concerto’s slow movement, marked Larghetto, we observe once more the powerful contrast between extreme simplicity, as at the opening, and the sophisticated elegance of the closing cadence, where second violins and violas move into a winding inner line — a texture Mozart had used frequently since his earliest works.
The finale third movement, given a tempo marking of Allegro, is a rondo — essentially a series of variations alternating with a related main melody. Here, however, solo cadenzas twice hold up the return of the theme. The one point where the theme appears in the wrong key (a fourth higher than usual or expected) is clearly prominent if only because the pretense cannot be sustained for long.
Overall, Mozart’s final concerto for piano and orchestra leaves the clear impression that his invention would have kept bubbling in a similar and evolvingly wondrous vein for many years to come, had fate spared us (and him) his early death. Still, the concertos we have are numerous enough — and rich enough in invention — to give us little possible ground for regret. As Mozart was, we can be glad for every opportunity we have in which music can affect our emotional hearts. —Hugh Macdonald © 2018
Hugh Macdonald is Avis H. Blewett Professor Emeritus of Music at Washington University in St. Louis. He has written books on Beethoven, Berlioz, Bizet, and Scriabin.