The Kennedy Center

Piano Concerto No. 22 in E-flat major, K. 482

About the Work

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
© Thomas May

Piano Concerto No. 22 in E-flat major, K. 482

WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART

Born January 27, 1756, in Salzburg

Died December 5, 1791, in Vienna

 

The very city that witnessed the creation of Schoenberg's Five Pieces - Vienna - was the exciting metropolis in which Mozart (1756-1791) sought artistic independence as a freelancer during the last decade of his all-too-brief life. And while we don't usually think of Mozart as a revolutionary composer, he was eager to experiment with the genres he had inherited, amplifying their expressive potential.

 

Earlier, during his youth in Salzburg, Mozart had composed a handful of keyboard concertos. But as a result of his new situation in Vienna - where, lacking solid patronage, he was forced to make a living by a blend of performing at the keyboard, teaching, and organizing concerts - the concerto offered an ideal vehicle to synthesize his complementary identities as a composer and a performer on an instrument that was just beginning to displace earlier keyboards.

 

Concerts presenting Mozart as the featured soloist provided a way to keep his name before the Viennese public while he waited for the next exciting commission. At the same time, Mozart was proud of the commercial appeal of these works: experimentation did not mean alienation. The biographer Robert Gutman writes that for Mozart, the piano concerto "became the symbol of his ascending popularity, the very core of his extraordinary success in Vienna." In the process, Mozart laid the groundwork for the piano concerto as a substantial musical statement, on a par with the newly evolving symphony, to which he likewise made significant contributions. This was the model Beethoven would go on to inherit and in turn bequeath to a new century - and a new sensibility.

 

The Concerto in E-flat (K. 482) dates from December 1785 and represents the peak of Mozart's remarkably fecund years of concentration on the piano concerto. Typically, he would create fresh concertos to be introduced during the long Lenten season, when the theaters were ordered to remain closed. Thus he had written two other concertos early in 1785 for the preceding Lent: the ones in D minor (K. 466) and C major (K. 467), which seem to form an ideal complement and which have deservedly held a lofty position among his most beloved piano concertos (and works overall). K. 482 was part of a set of three intended for Lent in 1786, but Mozart may have introduced it as an entr'acte during a performance of Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf's oratorio Esther in December - according to the authority Neal Zaslaw - and played it soon after at an Advent concert.

 

The E-flat Concerto tends to be eclipsed by its two earlier companions of 1785. While it may lack their dramatic grandeur and scope, K. 482 is replete with delights of its own. It manifests another instance of Mozart's genius for making each excursion into the concerto format unique, endowed with an instantly recognizable sense of color and character. You can hear this at once in the mellow sonority of the clarinets Mozart uses during the opening orchestral exposition - this composer's version of "painting" with sound colors. Indeed, in K. 482 Mozart incorporates the new-fangled clarinet sonority in his concerto scoring for the first time (replacing the oboes).

 

The piano soloist makes her entrée playing transitional material, but don't think of this as "filler" - it will prove integral to the development of the first movement. This is a spacious opening movement, and as in his other masterpieces of this vintage, Mozart strews his canvas with a prodigal abundance of thematic and lyrical ideas (a marked distinction from Haydn's tendency toward thrifty use of material).

 

An unexpected swerve into the minor foreshadows the darkly inflected shades that take center stage in the Andante in C minor (the minor mode being an unusual choice for a slow movement in Mozart's oeuvre). To the composer's delighted surprise, the audience demanded an encore of the Andante at the second performance (soon after the premiere, at an Advent concert). Indeed, this variation-based slow movement gives the concerto an unforgettable emotional depth.

 

It was just at this time that Mozart was already hard at work composing the first of his operatic collaborations with Lorenzo da Ponte: Le Nozze di Figaro, which would receive its premiere in the following May. Something of the bittersweet eros that pervades Figaro might be said to flavor the Andante as well: savor its poignant contrasts of texture and harmonic coloring. The spotlight is given to the piano in the first two variations, but episodes featuring woodwinds (and veering into the major) enrich the second variation. After the lengthy third variation comes an intriguing coda.

 

A gently sensuous, minuet-like Andantino episode erupts, most surprisingly, smack in the middle of the "hunting" rondo finale - which betrays yet more evidence of the Figaro sound waiting in the wings. Mozart left no cadenzas for this concerto, and the soloist moreover seems encouraged to phrase her part in such a way as to point up the elegant wit the composer stages in his handling of the rapport between the piano and orchestra. An amiable nod to the temperament of his new friend Haydn, who understood his younger peer's genius like no one else, appears near the very end - yet it's a touch that fully reaffirms Mozart's own personality, as composer and pianist alike.