At the age of 17, Mozart was engaged as a court musician in Salzburg, but grew restless and travelled in search of a better position, always composing abundantly. Whilst visiting Vienna in 1781, he was dismissed from his Salzburg position, but chose to stay in Vienna where he achieved fame but little financial security. During his final years in Vienna, he composed many of his best-known symphonies, concertos and operas.
Mozart’s popularity with the Viennese concert public can be gauged from the number of piano concertos he wrote each year. He commented in a letter to his father about the compositions that they are ‘written in such a way that the less learned cannot fail to be pleased, though without knowing why’.
Mozart composed this concerto in early 1784 and the first performance was given in June of that year. It is one of the rare concertos that Mozart composed with a soloist other than himself in mind – his student Barbara Ployer. It is said that she paid him handsomely for it.
The work is orchestrated for solo piano, flute, two oboes, two bassoons, two horns and strings. As is typical with a concerto, it is in three movements:
Allegretto – Presto.
The orchestral exposition of the first movement of this work shows Mozart’s thematic extravagance. Where a traditional classical concerto would give two contrasting themes, this exposition offers no less than six, one growing out of the previous one. This wealth of multiplicity, yet beauty of ideas also graces the second movement where five separate themes are employed. The final movement brings a sense of fun to the otherwise rather serious, elegant composition; it combines rondo and variation procedures, the melody itself a kind of bouree in the French mode. The drama of the building complexity of each variation is heightened through the introduction of a new theme, Presto, for an extended coda worthy of an opera finale.