If Mozart were asked at what music he excelled, he would claim that
operas and piano concertos remained his strong suits. The piano
concerto medium, claims Mozart, provides“a happy vehicle between
what is too easy and too difficult,” a synthesis of complexity and clarity.|
The Concerto in C Major, K. 467 (1785) remains among the most popular of
Mozart’s concertos, especially after the movie, Elvira Madigan, exploited
its romantic second movement, the Andante in F Major, for its love theme.
The opening movement, Allegro maestoso, has a militant character, offset
by some five other, lyrical themes. The Adagio utilizes the skip of the seventh
note of the scale to create its dramatic effect. The boisterous Rondo finale
often hints at elements of comic opera while the piano enjoys runs and brisk
passages to impress the auditors of his digital virtuosity.
The Concerto in A Major, K. 488 (1786), composed in tandem with his opera,
The Marriage of Figaro, projects a warm, congenial atmosphere. The music may
lack the bold luster of K. 467, but it shines in its clarity and inter-mixing of colors.
The middle movement, Adagio, proceeds in the poignant relative of A Major, the
key of F-sharp Minor. Set in 6/8 meter, the lyric has an Italianate, mournful aura.
The Rondo movement leaps out in the piano solo, and then the orchestra opens
with unruffled shafts of sunlight as the forces collaborate in a festive mood.
The most unusual work, the Masonic Funeral Music (1785) is set in a tragic C Minor.
Mozart belonged to a society of Masons, dedicated to democracy and human
harmony. The piece becomes anguished in chromatic colors and dissonance, in a
mere 69 measures. The instruments, like the clarinets, oboes, French horns,
basset horns, and bassoon give a depth of meaning to the whole, which has a
Baroque effect, maintaining one affeckt, only relieved in moments of E-flat and C
Piano Concerto No. 27 in B-flat Major (1791) comes from Mozart’s last year. The
music projects a quiet resignation as well as moments of ineffable harmony and
musical texture. The melodies of the first movement, Allegro, flow seamlessly.
The middle movement, Larghetto, proceeds in E-flat Major, chaste and spartan in
its illusion of simplicity. The transparent last movement, Rondo, refines the childlike
naivete that Mozart had mastered, the art that conceals art.
The Symphony No. 40 in G Minor, K. 550 (1788) seems filled with pain and conflict:
conductor Bruno Walter claimed that no conductor under 50 years of age should ever
lead it. There are no trumpets or drums to indicate celebration. The tragic tone of the
music has parallels in moments from Die Zauberfloete. The Andante movement in
E-flat Minor offers no relief. Like the first movement Molto allegro, the shifts occur
in color and energy, soulful context between light and dark. The Menuetto movement
plays an unhappy scherzo, set in G Minor. The Trio section, in G Major, provides a
short respite. Strong contrasts mark the final movement, Allegro assai, which like
the preceding movement, exploits Mozart’s love for counterpoint and complexity. The
general tenor of tragic awareness never quite relents in this extraordinary symphony.