The solo concerto had become, during the eighteenth century, an important vehicle for composer-performers, a form of music that had developed from the work of Johann Sebastian Bach, through his much admired sons Carl Philipp Emanuel and Johann Christian, to provide a happy synthesis of solo and orchestral performance. Mozart w rote his first numbered piano concertos, arrangements derived from other composers, in 1767, undertaking further arrangements from Johann Christian Bach a few years later. His first attempt at writing a concerto, however, had been at the age of four or five, described by a friend of the family as a smudge of notes, although, his father claimed, very correctly composed. In Salzburg as an adolescent Mozart wrote half a dozen piano concertos, the last of these for two pianos after his return from Paris in 1779. The remaining seventeen piano concertos were written in Vienna, principally for his own use in the subscription concerts that he organised there during the last decade of his life.
The second half of the eighteenth century also brought considerable changes in keyboard instruments, as the harpsichord was gradually superseded by the fortepiano or pianoforte, with its hammer action, an instrument capable of dynamic nuances impossible on the older instrument, while the hammer-action clavichord from which the piano developed had too little carrying power for public performance. The instruments Mozart had in Vienna, by the best contemporary makers, had a lighter touch than the modern piano, with action and leather-padded hammers that made greater delicacy of articulation possible, among other differences. They seem well suited to Mozart's own style of playing, by comparison with which the later virtuosity of Beethoven seemed to some contemporaries rough and harsh.
By 1788 Mozart's popularity as a performer had begun to wane in Vienna. The year before, the new opera Don Giovanni had been commissioned by the theatre in Prague, and was staged in Vienna in May 1788, but there was to be no new commission for Vienna until the 1790 season, when performances of Cosi fan tutte were curtailed by the death of the Emperor. The D major Piano Concerto, K. 537, was completed on 24th February, 1788, presumably with a view to a series of Lenten concerts, and we may suppose formed part of the programme for the Casino concerts in June which Mozart mentions in a letter to his fellow free-mason Michael Puchberg, from whom he was obliged to borrow money during the summer. On his journey to Berlin with Prince Lichnowsky in 1789 he played the concerto before the Elector of Saxony in Dresden, but the name by which the concerto has become known derives from its performance by Mozart on 15th October, 1790, in Frankfurt for the coronation in that city of the new Emperor Leopold II. The event aroused relatively little interest and earned him little money.
The D major Concerto is scored for an orchestra that includes trumpets and drums, as well as the customary flute, pairs of oboes, bassoons and horns, and strings. The orchestral exposition is opened by the strings with a theme that forms the substance of the soloist's own entry, leading through bravura scale passages to a second theme, further extended until the appearance of the second subject. The central development is based principally on a relatively insignificant figure, before the soloist leads to the return of the orchestra with the recapitulation.
The soloist introduces the A major slow movement, followed by the orchestra, without trumpets or drums, and proceeding to a central section in material of the greatest simplicity. This is followed by the final rondo, into which the soloist leads with another of those melodies that seem to have all the ingenuousness of Papageno. The movement is not without moments of seriousness, but in general lacks the substance of the concertos that immediately precede it in order of composition.
The Piano Concerto in D major, K. 175, is the first such concerto by Mozart to be based on original material, after the arrangements he had made in 1767 and 1772. He wrote the work out in Salzburg in December 1773. He had spent ten weeks until late September in Vienna, accompanied by his father, who had taken advantage of the Archbishop's absence from Salzburg to travel with his son. The visit did not produce its desired purpose, presumably a position at court, but had a clear influence on Mozart's developing style of composition, particularly in a set of six string quartets he w rote in Vienna, two of them with fugal finales, an occasional practice of Haydn. The new concerto, which remained a favourite, to be played in Mannheim in 1777 and in Vienna in 1782, with a new finale, the rondo variations, K. 382, is a work of complete maturity, scored for pairs of oboes and horns, with trumpets and drums, as well as the necessary strings. The Rondo of 1782 adds a flute to the band.
The first movement of the concerto opens with a bold statement of the first theme from the orchestra, elegantly concluded and leading to the violin introduction of the second theme, is offered music of consistent brilliance, which includes a written cadenza. The G major slow movement, gently lyrical, interweaves the piano with the orchestra, and is followed, in the original version, by a remarkable enough finale, which opens as if about to embark on a fugue. The contrapuntal element continues to be of importance as the movement continues, the cadenza - Mozart's own cadenza has not survived - introduced by a four part canon, as the string sections enter one after another in imitation. The D major Rondo later substituted for this very original finale is marked Allegretto grazioso and consists of a series of variations that make marginally greater demands on the soloist, if less on the audience. Scholars have suggested that Mozart had a particular instrument in mind when he w rote the D major concerto, in view of the relatively limited range of notes in the solo part, which seems deliberately to avoid the slightly wider known range of instruments current at the time. It seems probable that Mozart played the concerto during his visit to Munich in 1774. He certainly had the music with him.
The Hungarian pianist Jeno Jand� has won a number of piano competitions in Hungary and abroad, including first prize in the 1973 Hungarian Piano Concours and a first prize in the chamber music category at the Sydney International Piano Competition in 1977. He has recorded for Naxos all the piano concertos of Mozart. Other recordings for the Naxos label include the concertos of Grieg and Schumann as we" as Rachmaninov's Second Concerto and Paganini Rhapsody and Beethoven's complete piano sonatas.
Reviewsmusic making which is fresh and direct - Penguin Guide