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First Los Angeles Philharmonic performance: April 14, 1966, with pianist Nikita Magaloff, Zubin Mehta conducting.
Orchestration: flute, 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, strings, and solo piano.
Writing to his father from Vienna in December 1782, Mozart (1756-1791) lamented the state of the piano concerto. "In order to garner applause with this happy medium – for true perfection in all things is no longer known or prized – you must write music that is either so simple a coachman could sing it, or so unintelligible that audiences like it simply because no sane person could understand it."
Mozart had arrived in Vienna in March 1781 and had initially found great success there. He soon discovered that the city's audiences were capricious and fickle, and that no one composer could keep their ears for long. Mozart relied heavily on public appearances for income, so he devoted a considerable part of his energies to organizing musical "academies." These concerts, with their pot-luck programs combining symphonies, concertos, chamber music, and vocal music, were meant to promote his talents as a composer and performer. The Piano Concerto No. 19 probably premiered at one such concert during 1784. The work was one of six in the genre that Mozart composed that year, a testament to the Herculean efforts he undertook to stay in the public consciousness.
The concerto lies somewhere between the simple and the unintelligible, which probably explains why he encountered increasing difficulty in Vienna beginning in the mid-1780s. The greater richness of the orchestral parts, the orchestra's independence from the soloist, and the chamber-like qualities of the score – all of these mark the F-major Concerto (and the other five 1784 piano concertos) as a significant moment in Mozart's output.
The opening movement, with its simple opening theme and moments of contrapuntal dialogue amongst the instruments of the orchestra as well as between the orchestra and soloist, immediately establishes the innovative nature of the F-major Concerto. The fresh, reposeful Allegretto features the soloist in dialogue with the winds, the sort of elegant back-and-forth that characterizes many of Mozart's concerto slow movements from 1784 on.
Mozart really throws down the gauntlet with the finale. The first two movements may not have gotten the coachmen whistling or confused the Viennese enough to garner much applause, but the finale certainly could do both in spades. The opening theme – introduced by the piano and the winds – is a toe-tapper if ever there was one, and the subsequent snatch of fugue, noble and baroque, introduces Bach to the rococo. In fact, Mozart spent every Saturday afternoon at the Viennese home of Baron van Swieten playing through scores by Bach and his contemporaries with fellow-composers and musicians. Mozart moves seamlessly between the two styles in what is perhaps the most complex concerto finale he ever composed.
- John Mangum is a Ph.D. candidate in history at UCLA. He has also annotated programs for the Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles Opera, and Hong Kong Arts Festival.