About this Piece
Piano Concerto No. 16 in D major, K. 451
Length: 25 minutes
Orchestration: flute, 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, strings, and solo piano
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performance: February 4, 1988, Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting, with soloist Peter Serkin
Piano Concerto No. 14 in E-flat major, K. 449
Length: 22 minutes
Orchestration: 2 oboes, 2 horns, strings, and solo piano
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performances
When he first arrived in Vienna in 1781, and for a few years after that, Mozart was the toast of the town. He gave concerts attended by the Emperor and other distinguished princes and aristocrats, he had plenty of commissions for new works, and he had no trouble finding pupils. Both of these concertos were the product of these good times - Mozart wrote 15 such works during his first four winter seasons in the Austrian capital (1782/83-1785/86). After that, he only wrote two more, one for 1787/88 and one for 1790/91 (the final season before his premature death on December 5, 1791).
Mozart needed something to play at his musical academies (a late 18th-century term for concerts), since he was not only the composer but also the star performer. The piano concerto was apparently his favorite medium, although he was a proficient player on a variety of instruments. Both of the works on this program come from the height of Mozart's popularity in Vienna, when each of his academies was a great success. Mozart described one of his appearances during the 1782/83 season in a letter to his father:
"The theater could not possibly have been fuller, and all the boxes were taken. What pleased me most, however, was that his Majesty the Emperor was present, was delighted, and applauded me loudly. It is his custom to send money to the box office before he enters the theater, otherwise I should have had every reason to expect more from him, for his satisfaction knew no bounds. The sum he sent was 25 ducats."
Scholars believe Mozart conceived the Piano Concerto No. 14 in E-flat major, K. 449, during this season both because of evidence from the autograph manuscript and because the work has more in common stylistically with the three concertos from the 1782/83 season than with the other five from winter 1784. For one thing, the concerto is scored so that it could be performed in a domestic setting rather than with the full orchestra required by the Concerto No. 16. Also, the solo part is conceived on a scale closer in its demands to the 1782/83 works, whereas Mozart described No. 16 as a work "to make the performer sweat."
The impetus to complete the Concerto No. 14 came in the form of a commission from one of Mozart's pupils, Barbara Ployer. Mozart dated the autograph February 9, 1784, and Ployer played the work at a private concert in March. Mozart gave the work its first public performance, probably on March 17 at a concert in the Trattnerhof, a building owned by Johann von Trattner, a successful printer and paper manufacturer who stood as godfather to three of Mozart's children and whose wife was one of his pupils. The work also coincided with a central moment in Mozart's gradual realization of his importance as a composer - it was the first work that he entered into a thematic catalogue of all of his compositions that he kept until his death.
Concerto No. 14 opens with a sonata-allegro movement (thematic exposition - development - recapitulation) with a cadenza for the soloist inserted before the final pages. The orchestral ritornello opens with a flourish and presents all of the thematic material for the first movement, in contrast to Mozart's other concertos, where the piano often shares some responsibility for this. When the piano enters, it repeats this thematic material. After the brief development section the orchestra revisits the opening flourish, signaling the recapitulation, in which the orchestra and soloist now share the themes presented in the exposition.
Mozart supplied an elegant andantino for the slow movement and a lively rondo for the finale. (In a rondo, a repeated theme alternates with contrasting episodes.) In a bit of inspired innovation, Mozart varied the rondo theme each time he repeated it. The movement also relies on counterpoint to an extent not found in Mozart's earlier concertos, a result of his exposure to the fugues of J. S. Bach and Handel during Sunday afternoons spent making music at the home of Baron Gottfried von Swieten.
Piano Concerto No. 16 in D major, K. 451, begun just six weeks after K. 449 was finished, testifies to the frantic pace of Mozart's activity during his Viennese heyday. The D-major concerto is the public, heroic Mozart at his best. The exuberant scoring includes trumpets and timpani, and the solo part places demands on the performer unlike any Mozart had previously made.
In contrast to the rather straightforward presentation of thematic material in the opening movement of No. 14, this concerto carefully manipulates the soloist and orchestra in a complex realization of sonata form. The independent orchestral writing for the winds (flutes and bassoons added to K. 449's pairs of oboes and horns) meant that this concerto needed a full orchestra for performance. Indeed, a review of the published version of K. 451 issued in 1791 brought to light by Mozart scholar Neal Zaslaw complained that, "It is only to be regretted that this masterly keyboard concerto is impracticable in smaller circles because of the number of instruments for which it is scored (and which are in part obbligato instruments), and is usable only with a strong, well-mannered orchestra."
Interestingly, both the andante and finale are in rondo form. The andante rondo relies on the same scheme Mozart devised for the finale of K. 449, namely, the rondo theme is varied each time it recurs. The spirited finale includes a change in meter, from a fast 6/8 to a stately 3/8, for its dignified closing pages.
— John Mangum is a Ph.D. candidate in history at UCLA. His research looks at the political, social, and cultural importance of opera in Berlin between 1740 and 1806.