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Mozart Piano Concertos

We asked the Pianist and Musical Director Diana Ambache to assess Mozart's Piano Concertos

Musical Opinion

July 2006 This is a very special year, with the 250th Anniversary celebrations of Mozart's birth. Are you all Mozarted-out yet? Or do you feel you are understanding him better for the deluge?

He is probably one of the most written about and well researched composers. However it is difficult to say why we find Mozart's music so distinctive and unique. For me it is something about the combination of emotion with a sensuous beauty of sound; he is the most human of composers, expressing all that we feel, in an apparently effortless way. His music also seems to communicate endless possibility, infinite hope and potential. As Schubert wrote in his diary "O Mozart, immortal Mozart, how many, how infinitely many inspiring suggestions of a finer, better life have you left in our souls!"

Of course I'm biased. I am a pianist who loves to play with others, and his piano concertos seem to me to be the crème de la crème. Everyone has a wonderful part to play, and so feels intimately connected to the magic that is being created. One of the great pleasures of playing this music is in being part of the team that creates an interweave of uplifting conversation.

Mozart brought all his many and various skills together in writing these works. He understood that the piano can move between being a soloist, or an accompanist, (as in No 19 in F K459), between a show off or a dreamer, (as in No 23 in A, K488). From his abilities as a string player he wrote vibrant tuttis; (for example the open string resonances give buoyancy in the C major works, No 8 K246; No 13 K415; No 21 K467; and No 25 K503). Symphonic logic and development can be seen in several mature works (such as No 20 in D minor, K466). He ranges from the intimacy of chamber music (as in the slow movement of No 18 in B flat, K456) to the overtly theatrical, (such as the introduction of a Minuet into the Finale of No 9 in E flat, K271). And his invaluable operatic experience, both as an ensemble writer and in expressing human emotion, pervades the conversations and colours the drama of so many works, not just the minor key ones (for example the end of No 19 in F, K459 is pure opera).

His writing was also influenced by various practical and historical elements, such as his need for music to play at his Viennese subscription concerts, the state of the fortepiano in the late 18th century, and the advent of the Harmonie, or wind band, bringing a new range of colour to orchestral writing. A prime example of this is the Variations in the Finale of the C minor concerto, No 24, K 491. The wind parts in No 17 in G K453, and No 19 in F K459, are also prominent; the works could almost be called Sinfonia Concertanti. In the early concerti he uses oboes and horns sparingly but effectively to shade the tuttis, (as the octaves in No 9 K271).

Written throughout his life, these concertos are evergreens for players and audiences alike. The development in the series is huge, the range of mood is exceptional. I always find his ability to defy gravity fascinating and testing. I realise that I often think of the slow movements as love songs. Then, as if he might have been too serious, the Finales are particularly wonderful when they are playful.

I first played Mozart concertos at University, starting with No 27 in B flat, K595 - possibly one of the hardest from a performance point of view, as it needs such a sense of equilibrium. I have enjoyed coming back to them again and again. The biggest test of any music is whether it continues to deepen as we get to know it. This music certainly does. I don't expect ever to think ‘I've got there'. That's one of the fascinations. I'm happy so long as I feel I've made some progress in my understanding, but I am always stretched by the challenges. The music is adaptable to so many different interpretations, by so many players and instruments. In my view what Artur Schnabel said about the Mozart sonatas is also applicable to the concertos: " they are unique; they are too easy for children and too difficult for artists."

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