Sunday, November 24, 2013

Mozart: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in C major, K 467

The slow movement from this concerto was used in the 1967 Swedish film Elvira Madigan which has given the concerto its nickname. Oddly, this seems to be the only Mozart concerto, apart from the "Coronation" Concerto, K 537, with a nickname. It was completed on March 9, 1785, less than a month after the D minor concerto and is as sunny as that one is stormy.

Someone mentioned to me the other day about how Mozart was depicted in the movie Amadeus, as an infantile goof. There is probably some evidence for that in his letters to his sister. But what they failed to depict in the movie, possibly because it may have seemed unbelievable, were his astonishing musical gifts. Mozart could well have been the most gifted musician to have ever lived. In the movie, there is really only one scene that hints at it: the one when he meets the Emperor and Salieri for the first time. Salieri has written a trivial little march to commemorate the occasion and plays it as Mozart enters. Mozart then sits down and recomposes it, on the spot, improving it in several ways. (Actually, he just decorates it a bit and changes a harmony--but I'm assuming that this is because it wasn't actually the historical Mozart doing the improving.)

The movie Mozart just scoffs at a little deceptive cadence--which is actually one of the better harmonic effects--and then turns it into a more dynamic piece with a little "Mannheim rocket". So much for the movie...

In reality, the historic Mozart did things that strain our credulity. When visiting Rome with his father in April 1770, age fourteen, Mozart attended a service at the Sistine Chapel at which a very famous Miserere by Gregorio Allegri was sung. This piece, dating from 1630, was kept for the sole use of the Sistine Chapel choir and no-one was allowed to take the score away or make copies on pain of excommunication! The piece is between twelve and fourteen minutes in length and begins with a five-part texture:

There are sections with a single voice, but also other sections in NINE parts! Now here is the thing, as described in letters, after hearing the piece sung on a Wednesday, Mozart simply wrote it out when he got home. The whole thing. On the Friday, when it was performed again, he went back and corrected a couple of passages. This is a simply astonishing feat of musical attention and memory. For comparison, the highest-level ear-training students at McGill are asked to take down short passages from an orchestral work of a page or two. They are allowed multiple hearings.

Here is a performance of the Miserere:

Other astonishing things that Mozart seems to have done is write a whole sonata for violin and piano in an hour. He didn't have time to actually write down the piano part, so he had to play it, well, not from memory exactly, but certainly from his head. On another occasion he didn't have time to write down the piano part to a concerto, so when he performed it for the first time with orchestra, he worked from just a few scribbled sketches. Has anyone else in music history ever done things like this? I very much doubt it!

But back to the Concerto, K. 467. It opens with an eight-measure sentence divided between strings and winds:

And the winds finish the phrase with a half cadence:

Then the last four measures are repeated, but this time altered to end with a full cadence that dovetails with the opening.

I won't put up all the themes of this first movement because, frankly, there are just too many! Unlike Haydn, who often found a single, simple theme to be all he needed for a whole movement, Mozart has a cornucopia of themes. He controls the form brilliantly by means of his harmonic structure, grandly and solidly in C major, but the themes just seem to grow like wildflowers. The piano enters with this little theme:

The orchestra comes back in with the opening theme under that trill. But there are lots of other themes. For example, as soon as the modulation to the dominant, G major, is firmly in place, the piano immediately has this new theme in the dominant minor:

And there are lots of other themes, some of which return in the recapitulation while others don't.

The second movement Andante in the traditional subdominant of F major, is unique with this hauntingly beautiful texture:

Malcom Bilson with the English Baroque Soloists conducted by John Eliot Gardiner have a particularly lovely performance:

The last movement, an Allegro vivace assai, begins with this energetic eight-measure period:

Now let's hear the whole piece. Here is Murray Perahia with the English Chamber Orchestra:

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