January is Mozart Piano Concerto Month
Continuing a favorite tradition, our weekday noon-hour visits with Mozart in WFCR's classical music this month will be devoted to his 23* great Piano Concertos. For quite a few Mozartians, including yours truly, the piano concerto was Mozart's most congenial instrumental genre. Why so? I can think of three major reasons.
First, by Mozart's time, the solo concerto had been developed by Vivaldi, Handel, Locatelli, Tartini and many others into a substantial form, giving the composer and the virtuoso performer (usually the same person) plenty of room for ingenuity and expression. By comparison, the symphony was by then little more than an overture broken off from its opera, the multi-movement piano sonata was in its infancy, and the chamber genres (trios, quartets, etc.) were mostly the province of amateurs. Yes, Mozart did great things with each of these forms later on, but his concertos start at a place far beyond his earliest works in other forms.
Second, the piano concerto provided Mozart with the most useful genre to to fully display his talents in public as both composer and performer. especially in years following his move to Vienna in 1781. Between then and 1786, in fact, Mozart produced no fewer than fifteen of the greatest concertos ever composed, all but (perhaps) one of them composed for his own keyboard artistry.
Third and most important, the concerto, with its interplay between soloist and orchestra, plays into Mozart's unmatched gift for musical characterization, especially of the comic variety. The kinship of the concertos' finales, in particular, with his magnificent operatic ensembles has been frequently pointed out -- what invention there is in this music, what felicitous orchestration (the winds playing increasingly important parts), what elegant, sparkling piano writing (it should "flow like oil", as Mozart said), what joy and delight! If I had to pick out one example of what I'm gushing about, it would be the finale from the Concerto No. 17 -- check out this video featuring you-know-who as pianist and conductor.
Our reliable and companionable guide in this month's tour through the concertos is the Austrian pianist Rudolf Buchbinder (above right) who's joined by the Vienna Symphony in one of the most consistently enjoyable traversals of the complete set. So, please make extra sure to be tuned in between noon and 1:00 every weekday in January, perhaps to be reminded why it's great to be alive for another year.
*Mozart's Piano Concertos Nos. 1-4 are not original works; rather, they are the young Mozart's arrangements of works by other composers. Charming as they are, they don't merit inclusion in the complete cycle of original concertos.