Week40: mozart’s piano concertos No.17 & No.21


here’s your chance if you’re the last person on the internet yet to discover that now-infamous ‘wow’: i’m speaking of course of the Wow Child whose sincere outburst at the end of the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s performance of mozart’s Masonic Funeral on may 5th has been working wonders in alerting the rest of the world that children (indeed anyone) are allowed at the symphony---and that unexpected things still happen at the symphony! i’ll put aside the minor consideration that there’s no better way to continue churning out generations of audiences with an averse and almost allergic response to classical music than bringing them to the Masonic Funeral at the ripe age of five. i’ll as well put aside, as evidence of the general population’s aversion to the genre, the fact that the north american classical music community responded to this outburst with anything other than a casual “well yes, of course”, but has instead unanimously upheld this poor child’s natural reaction to great music as proof that the genre isn’t just for old white men, but the very young and genuine ones as well. putting all that aside, one is still left with what was an unbearably charming and innocently spontaneous reaction to what is indeed an experience beyond the realm of words. it is a testament to a composer whose works---though having lived for only 35 years over 200 years ago--- remains relevant...

Putting it very roughly: Mozart’s themes are timeless, those of Beethoven were written expressly for his time. “” friedrich blume, Mozart’s Style and Influence

there’s a lightness of touch--and a touch of light-- characteristic of mozart’s compositions (that beethoven after him seems to have outgrown with his persona of the tortured genius). the two compositions on this week’s selection ---mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 17 & No. 21---are exhilarating examples of that easy-going gaiety, buoyancy and light-heartedness that the month of may inspires.  

it was during Tafelmusik’s recent production of mozart compositions that i recalled one of nietzsche’s most prescient asides as relates to our modern sensibilities and difficulties with serenity:

Everyone nowadays lives through too much and thinks through too little: they have a ravenous appetite and colic at the same time so that they keep getting thinner and thinner no matter how much they eat.--Whoever says nowadays, "I have not experienced anything"--is a fool. “” friedrich nietzsche, Human, All Too Human.

perhaps i’m more susceptible to getting swept up in the monday-to-monday cycle of things, forgetting of that sunday slowness, the kind that animates the Concerto No. 17, and the profound cheerfulness of the Concerto No. 21. mozart finished No. 17 in april of 1784 in the standard three-movement concerti form. there’s in the piano part an easiness and leisure that is distinctly mozart, the prince of the Classical period. the orchestra’s accompaniment, however, has more of the Baroque to it than the Classical, especially with the strain and activity of a busy string section. in all three movements it’s the orchestra that takes the lead. the character of the piano part is percussive like rungs on a ladder while, and like side rails on a ladder the lyricism of the orchestration gives fluidity to the soloist’s choppy expressions. in the supporting role to the soloist, a pair of flutes, oboes and bassoons provide warmth to the piece. throughout the concerto, and especially at the end of the first movement, the soloist is tasked with several ornamental flourishes called an eingang. the slow movement continues in the same style of abbreviated cadenzas on piano and by the third movement has taken the lead from the orchestra in the final and vibrant Allegretto.


the Concerto No.21 was composed just a year after the 17th but is much larger in scale and complexity. the opening Allegro is made more majestic (Allegro maestoso), the middle Andante made more lucid and liquid in its expression, while the closing Allegretto has been sped up (Allegro vivace assai). the orchestration remains baroque in spirit, increasing in bombast with the addition of trumpets and timpani. it’s the piano that has evolved to join in on the fun with a much more lyrical tone and a fluidity that inspired future Romantic composers like chopin and much of beethoven’s piano sonatas. the first movement begins with a long orchestral introduction, when the piano finally joins in it is like the a guest’s response to courtesies by an enthusiastic host. as if to emphasize the piano’s shedding of it’s percussive tendencies, the slow movement begins in pizzicato on strings as the piano glides above a scenery of warm wind instruments with quick elaborate gestures. the third movement unfolds via a call-and-response between orchestra and soloist, with the woodwinds as the main opposition. of all six movements between the 17th and 21st concertos, the Allegro vivace assai is the most vibrant and decidedly cheerful---mozart had apparently taught the musical phrase that opens the movement to his pet starling. it’s as well one of the shortest movements in the two concertos, volleying the same theme back and forth with minor variations ending with an exclamatory sendoff on the solo instrument.


Deutsche Grammophon Recording // Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) // Piano Concertos No.17, G Major, K.453; No.21, C Major, K.467

Camerata Academica of the Salzburg Mozarteum with conductor and soloist Geza Anda

Piano Concerto No.17

  • Allegro (brisk)

  • Andante (moderately slow)

  • Allegretto (moderately brisk)

Piano Concerto No.21

  • Allegro maestoso (fast and majestic)

  • Andante

  • Allegro vivace assai (very fast)