Symphony No 21

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Concerto No. 21 in C Major for Piano and Orchestra, K. 467

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart​
Born January 27, 1756 in Salzburg, Austria
Died December 5, 1791 in Vienna, Austria

By Marianne Williams Tobias
The Marianne Williams Tobias Program Note Annotator Chair


Mozart was riding the crest of his popularity as a composer and pianist in Vienna when he premiered his Piano Concerto, Number 21 on March 9, 1785 at the Burg Theater, in one of his subscription concerts. That evening was a well-attended leading musical and social event, with a new concerto from the composer. The critic, Niemetschek, reported that his playing “captivated every listener and established Mozart as the greatest keyboard player of his day.” Leopold Mozart, who was visiting his son at this time, noted that the work was “astonishingly difficult.” This happy visit would be the last time that the father and son would see each other. At this time, Mozart was highly energized—he had completed K. 467 only one month after Piano Concerto Number 20 and within the upcoming 21 months would produce four more. 

K. 467 is cast in the traditional three movements. “K” refers to the name of Mr. Köchel, who chronicled Mozart’s works and proceeded to guarantee his own immortality by numbering the pieces with his own initial first. The first movement (marked allegro maestoso) opens with suspended animation. Strings quietly whisper the march-like theme, which grows steadily into a vigorous and majestic subject for the whole orchestra. Another theme from the winds is presented, but does not emerge again until the end, a recluse within the body of the movement. Other themes of short duration also appear before the march is recalled and the orchestra concludes its complex opening. After the introduction, the soloist enters with independent, new ideas unfolding in a delicate beginning. Then the piano spins its own tunes. Together the soloist and orchestra work out a unique relationship in which both forces seem concerned with their own material. “In no other concerto does Mozart carry so far the separation between the two…Mozart has succeeded in making it (the piano) as capable a vehicle of his thought as the orchestra.” (Tovey) The movement ends quietly and is followed by a cadenza. 

The second movement is an andante (slow). Its mood is dream-like and elegant. The orchestra opens the scene with muted strings and over their hushed rippling the main emerges. Here is the now familiar “Elvira Madigan” theme. The piano enters with the luxuriant ease and sings its part throughout the movement with steady and controlled presentation, traversing many keys, interlacing with the orchestra, resulting in lavish but subdued color. Tovey concludes; “No richer and more enchanting tints could be drawn from the palette which Mozart had at hand.” The hazy modulating atmosphere and calm triplets create a nocturne feeling reminiscent of the works of Chopin yet to come. At times the music seemed experimental in terms of the harmonies,which the composer used. Mozart’s father, Leopold, even suggested that perhaps the copyist had made a mistake because of these “wrong sounds.”

The third movement finale, a rondo, re-establishes the original strutting mood. After the fantasy quality of the andante, the sturdy energy comes as a shock. The piano starts off the romp with a little solo, and then the full activity begins using a theme which Mozart borrowed from his concerto for Two Pianos, K. 365. The mood is jolly, holding to an opera buffa attitude. The bounce and saucy attitude continues until the close, offering a flashing conclusion which undoubtedly delighted his aristocratic and unflinching world. Mozart’s father was delighted with this work. 

© Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, 2017

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