Program Notes

By Jason Sundram

Piano Concerto #20 in D minor, K. 466 (1785)

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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (January 27, 1756–December 5, 1791)

  1. Allegro
  2. Romance
  3. Allegro assai

Mozart was one of the first musicians in history to follow his own artistic goals without the support of a patron. Emperor Joseph II criticized his music: “Too beautiful for our ears, and far to many notes, my dear Mozart.” A misunderstood figure in his day, Mozart received the appreciation he deserved only posthumously.

Composed in Vienna and premiered February 10, 1785 at Hehlgrube, the d minor Piano Concerto marks the beginning of a new phase in Mozart’s concerto style. A stronger orchestral role and a newfound expressive intensity characterize K. 466, his first concerto in a minor key; the concerti from here on are conceived in a kind of “symphonic concerto form.” Mozart played its premiere not only without a rehearsal, but also without having played through the last movement even once. It was only one of 15 piano concerti Mozart composed in the years 1782—86.

One of the most popular of Mozart’s concerti, in the 19th century, when most of Mozart’s oeuvre was neglected, K. 466 was the only concerto that remained in the repertoire. Beethoven performed it in the beginning of his career. It is his cadenza that we hear today, as none of Mozart’s survive. It is a happy fusion of Mozartian and Beethovenian style.

This concerto is paradoxically marked by both independence and unity. It combines Mozart’s “sparkling” and “intimate” styles that had, until this piece, been present only separately in his works. Instead of being a mélange, this combination yields even greater depth in the music. Famed musicologist Alfred Einstein remarked that, unlike most solo instruments, which can be easily covered by the orchestra, the piano is “a worthy opponent” for the orchestra. This is why Mozart is able to conceive this work almost as a “battle” between orchestra and soloist, emancipated the orchestra to use its full sonic potential. The conflict here, is that of one tragic voice against a large anonymous (orchestral) force. Through this separation, Mozart achieves a remarkable integration. Though the piano’s expository theme remains its exclusive province for the entire movement, the piano merges beautifully with the orchestra in the lyrical sections.