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Composed: 1776

Length: 21 minutes

Orchestration: 2 oboes, 2 horns, strings, and three pianos

Commentators have been fairly tight-lipped - even derogatory - about Mozart's Concerto for Three Pianos. In his classic biography of the composer, Alfred Einstein passes over the work in his discussion of Mozart's keyboard concertos - "…we shall not concern ourselves further with the purely galant Concerto for Three Pianos…" - and most writers content themselves with the circumstances of the work's creation, probably because those help explain the music of the Concerto.

Mozart wrote it during the first four months of 1776, a fairly prolific period that also produced the Concertos in B-flat, K. 238, and in C, K. 246 ("Lützow"). He tailored the Concerto for Three Pianos for one of his noble patrons, Countess Maria Antonia Lodron, and her two daughters. The countess hosted Salzburg's leading musical salon, and Mozart cast his patroness and her daughters in the most flattering light in the concerto. Accordingly, the keyboard writing fits the skills of the performers - the first two keyboard parts tell us that the countess and her elder daughter Aloisia were fairly gifted amateur players, while the part for the younger daughter, Giuseppa, is less demanding. When Mozart himself eventually played this concerto in 1780, in one of his last public performances in Salzburg, he rearranged it for two pianos, a version that makes greater demands on the soloists.

The work begins with a formally straightforward sonata-form Allegro. The orchestra presents a full exposition, which is then repeated and elaborated by the soloists. The first theme contrasts a forthright statement from the full orchestra (two each of oboes and horns with strings) with a more lyrical phrase for the violins. After some transitional material, the violins introduce the second theme, which is echoed by the horns. After a compact development section that moves into the minor mode, the orchestra begins the recapitulation with the same forthright statement that opened the concerto, but here, Mozart integrates the soloists and orchestra to a greater degree than he did in the opening double exposition.

The Adagio in B-flat begins with a lengthy, quite beautiful theme, introduced by the orchestra. Mozart handles the modest forces at his disposal with great skill, evoking rich sounds with some well-timed horn counterpoint and filigree writing for the oboes. The soloists open the rondo-finale, whose brief theme is infused with the courtly spirit of the minuet, entirely appropriate for a work meant for a countess' musical salon. But, of course, Mozart could never be expected to conform to the demands of genteel society, and the concerto ends with a little joke - a trick coda, followed by the real thing.

- John Mangum is the Philharmonic’s Program Designer/Annotator.