Piano Concerto No. 12, K. 414
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
The A-major Piano Concerto, K. 414, was one of three that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) wrote in late 1782 for that winter’s concert season in Vienna, after the success of his opera The Abduction from the Seraglio. Mozart tried to publish them by subscription, taking a utilitarian approach that would seem out of touch with our notions of high-art music. He advertised that “Herr Mozart, Kapellmeister” (Mozart was not actually a Kapellmeister of anything) was offering three “recently completed piano concertos” that “may be performed not only with an accompaniment of large orchestra and winds, but also a quattro, namely, with two violins, viola and violoncello.” They would be issued “only to those who have subscribed to them beforehand,” and interested persons could subscribe by bringing four ducats to Mozart’s place. Almost nobody did, so Mozart pitched the concertos unsuccessfully to a Parisian publisher before finally getting Vienna’s Artaria to issue them in 1785. He had never published a piano concerto before, and never would again. But if the Viennese didn’t care to play Mozart’s piano concertos, they certainly liked listening to them. Over the next few years, Mozart would achieve fame and affluence in Vienna producing and starring in concerts of his own music, with his piano concertos the main course of each feast. He would write 17 piano concertos for Vienna – 15 of them between 1782 and 1786 – and continue to prosper until later in the decade, when war and attendant recession caused the concert business, and thus the concerto business, to tank.
Because it was published and therefore would be played by someone other than himself, Mozart wrote out cadenzas for players who couldn’t improvise them. In fact, he wrote two different cadenzas for each place in the score where they occur: once in each outer movement and twice in the slow movement, for a grand total of eight.
In a December 1782 letter to his father he wrote, “These concertos are a happy medium between too heavy and too light. They are very brilliant, pleasing to the ear, and natural, without being insipid. There are parts here and there from which connoisseurs alone can derive satisfaction, but these passages are written in such a way that the less learned cannot fail to be pleased, albeit without knowing why.” He didn’t elaborate on the difference between the satisfaction of connoisseurs and the pleasure of the less learned, and indeed may have been blowing smoke in his father’s direction; it wouldn’t be the only time.
For Mozart, the key of A major was usually one of lyricism and serenity, and this Concerto is a prime example. It is an elegant, flowing, self-satisfied work with little turmoil, and nary an excursion into a minor key.
Lawyer and lutenist Howard Posner also annotates programs for the Salzburg Festival.