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About this Piece

Composed: 1788

Length: 28 minutes

Orchestration: flute, 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, strings, and solo piano

First Los Angeles Philharmonic performance: December 10, 1964 (opening week of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion) with pianist Robert Casadesus, Zubin Mehta conducting

It can be said that during the last decade of his life, while he was in residence in Vienna (1781-91), the piano concerto was to Mozart what the piano sonata was to Beethoven. In each composer's case it was a process of composition that reflected an awareness and realization of all the implied possibilities of expression within each of these forms. For nearly his entire career, the piano sonata fulfilled Beethoven's requirement for stylistic and formal experimentation, leading to a mastery of techniques that found their ways into other instrumental forms. Mozart, on the other hand, reached consummate mastery of the piano concerto in less than five years (he composed fifteen concertos between 1782 and 1786).

Interestingly enough, it was during this same period that Mozart's dramatic works, the operas Die Entf├╝hrung aus dem Serail, K. 384 (1781-82), and Le nozze di Figaro, K. 492 (1785-86), were composed. Both of these musical genres (concerto and opera) presented Mozart with a similar problem: placing an individual in a conflict in which opposite forces reveal their character through the drama of confrontation. In opera the situation for the individual is largely psychological, a confrontation of personalities and motivations. Mozart carries these concerns into the concerto: the individual voice of the solo instrument is pitted against - but also permeates - the sonority of the orchestra, creating a fusion of symphonic, operatic, and concerto forms, without the psychological implications associated with opera, but maintaining its form-defining harmonic tensions. However, as will be seen, Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 26 in D major, K. 537, breaks with this process.

Mozart composed his Piano Concerto No. 26 in February of 1788. The nickname "Coronation" is attributed to the fact that he performed this work when Leopold II was crowned Emperor at Frankfurt in October 1790. Having been overlooked for participation in the official ceremonies, Mozart, at his own expense, directed a concert on October 15 at which he performed this concerto.

The "Coronation" Concerto differs from its predecessors in that it depends less on the harmonic tensions within the separate movements to define structure, and more on melodic succession to accomplish this task. For instance, the first movement's opening ritornello (orchestral exposition sans soloist) has several non-thematic transitional passages that serve to distinguish one section from another. Several of these transitions do not fulfill their classical function of moving from one key or harmonic area to another; they grow out of a cadence or establishment of a key, functioning now merely as melodic extensions lacking strong harmonically directed flow. Normally, Mozart would have saved these transitional phrases for the soloist to expand and develop; in this context, their placement within the first orchestral statement serves to loosen the harmonic and rhythmic structure.

As a consequence, the solo piano is given virtuosic figuration that creates its own tension in place of the missing harmonic tension; it nearly approaches virtuosity for its own sake. In this sense, this concerto might be thought of as proto-Romantic in that the emphasis is given to virtuosic display over a classical integration and balance of melodic and harmonic materials between orchestra and soloist. That it was prophetic of the concerns of Romantic composers is evident in that it was the most popular of all Mozart's concertos during the 19th century. (How ironic, then, that the Los Angeles Philharmonic's only performances of the work since its belated debut in 1964 come in this final Dorothy Chandler Pavilion season.)

-- Steven Lacoste is the Los Angeles Philharmonic's Archivist.