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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto No 20 in D minor, K466
It is not difficult to understand why the nineteenth century kept Mozart’s D minor piano concerto on the concert platform while ignoring many of his other works, for it is quintessentially Romantic in nature.
Mozart’s D minor concerto is dark and surprising in its outer movements while cradling a central slow movement of such tender lyricism that it would take a heart of steel not to succumb to its blandishments. The turbulence of the opening movement is offset by a Rondo finale that is full of irregularities – it even harks back to the tempestuous first movement. The unusual (for Mozart) addition of two trumpets and timpani to the orchestra for this concerto also contributes to the drama. But when all is said and done, Mozart cannot resist providing us with a ‘happy ending’ by concluding his masterpiece triumphantly in D major.
Given the unsettling parry and thrust of this concerto, it is astonishing to learn that the copyists were still busy writing out the orchestral parts the day before the concert. The orchestral musicians must have been the very best in Vienna, for the ever-critical Leopold Mozart (who arrived just in time to hear his son give the first performance of the concerto in Vienna in February 1785) noted how wonderfully the entire subscription concert had been performed – and the orchestral parts are no mere trifling accompaniment. The writing for both soloist and orchestra is powerful and dramatic, with the orchestra playing an equally important part in the musical development of the work. It is not hard to hear why Beethoven, who performed this concerto frequently, should have been so attracted to this magnificent specimen of Mozart’s art – but then, so are we all.
K466 has always been a regular visitor to the concert platform, and will continue to be so as long as we have ears! It is a perfect example of why music can so deeply touch human emotions while mere words can only hope to scratch the surface. But then, that is why Mozart is one of the immortals – his music goes straight to the heart.
© David Gardner