Friday, May 25, 2012

Leonard Bernstein: Mozart Piano Concerto No. 17

Leonard Bernstein performs the third movement of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 17 in G major, KV. 453, with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Bernstein conducting.


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart completed the work in 1784. There is some debate among musicologists when this was first performed. I will go along with the program notes of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, as written by Philip Huscher:
Mozart’s popularity with the Viennese concert public can be gauged from the number of piano concertoshe wrote each year; 1784 was the peak year, with six new concertos. Those are the first works that Mozart entered in the catalog he started that February—a detailed listing, complete with date, instrumentation, and the opening bars of each new piece of music. Both the first entry, a piano concerto in E-flat (K. 449) and this G major concerto, the fifth item, were written not for Mozart’s own use, but for one of his most gifted students, Barbara Ployer, often called Babette. Mozart said she paid him handsomely for it, though its value to musicians through the years can’t be rendered in common currency.
 Barbara Ployer gave the first performance on June 13 at her family’s summer home in the Viennese suburb of Döbling, accompanied by an orchestra her father hired for the occasion. Mozart brought along as his guest the celebrated Italian composer Giovanni Paisiello, whose newest hit, The Barber of Seville, had already made Figaro an operatic sensation before either Mozart or Rossini got the chance. Mozart himself took the keyboard part in his Quintet in E-flat for piano and winds—the work that directly precedes the concerto in his catalog—and, as an added attraction, joined Miss Ployer in his two-piano sonata, K.448. The evening was an upscale entertainment heightened by great music. In the way that Mozart managed better than nearly any composer at any time, this music touches both connoisseur and dilettante alike—it’s music of surpassing technical brilliance, but also, in Mozart’s own words, “written in such a way that the less learned cannot fail to be pleased, though without knowing why.”


  1. Orchestras perform Mozart beautifully, as a general rule. Pianists sometimes get a bit too romantic and don't have the 18th-century crispness that Mozart performances ought to have. Here Bernstein's conducting sounds like Mozart, but when he plays solo piano sections, he occasionally has the faults of a pianist--even though it's the same piece at the same time.

    1. Yes, like in Horowitz's renditions, the Romantic mood takes over.


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