Length: c. 10 minutes
Orchestration: 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, strings, and solo piano and voice
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performance: July 11, 1970, with mezzo-soprano Christa Ludwig, Josef Krips conducting
London-born Anna Selina (“Nancy”) Storace came to Vienna as part of an Italian opera ensemble in 1783 and remained to become the first Susanna in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro in 1786. The scene and rondo, “Ch’io mi scordi di te? … Non temer, amato bene,” K. 505, was written in December of that year for Nancy’s Vienna farewell concert (February 23, 1787), prior to her return to London. Mozart created the complementary piano part for his own performance, resulting in a unique sort of duo concertante, a melding of opera aria and piano concerto. The text – possibly by Lorenzo da Ponte – had already been used for an aria (K. 490) inserted into a private amateur performance of Idomeneo in 1786, and clearly Mozart found the words, in his new and superior musical setting, uniquely suited to the occasion of the Storace farewell concert.
The dramatic variety that the composer compresses into the ten minutes of K. 505 is remarkable even by his standards. The piece opens with a recitative for voice and strings, the winds and piano not making their entrances until the rondo, followed by the piano asserting itself with eight solo measures before the voice re-enters. And how to do justice here to what Mozart accomplishes in his treatment of the phrase “l’alma mia mancando va” (My spirit fails me)? One can only try, by noting how Mozart has the voice steering the most unsteady of courses, as if the protagonist were about to fall into a faint. Amazing stuff, as Mozart himself surely believed when he returned to its heightened expressivity as he was creating the music for Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni, which was germinating at the same time.
Alfred Einstein noted of K. 505, “Mozart poured into it his whole soul… We have the impression that [he] wanted to preserve the memory of [Nancy’s] voice... not suited to a display of virtuosity, but full of warmth and tenderness; and that he wanted to leave with her in the piano part a souvenir of the taste and depth of his playing, and of the depth of his feeling for her…”
Herbert Glass, after serving on the administrative staffs of the New York Philharmonic and the San Francisco Opera, was for 25 years a critic / columnist for the Los Angeles Times. He has also written for the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians and for periodicals in Europe and the United States. He recently completed his 15th season as English-language editor / annotator for the Salzburg Festival.