Mozart: Piano Concerto no 20 in D minor

After being physically kicked out of the service of the Archbishop of Salzburg, Mozart settled in Vienna in 1781. At first he prospered. With the ongoing success of his opera “Il Seraglio” he was in demand, not only as a composer but as a pianist and teacher. However, as an independent musician without any guaranteed patronage, he was wise enough to realise that, to maintain an income, his financial salvation lay in the direction of the concert hall. To that end, he composed seventeen of his twenty-seven piano concertos in the last ten years of his life. Nonetheless, he did in fact write three concertos (including this one) for his wealthy amateur pianist lady patrons.

Of his twenty-seven piano concertos, only two are in the minor mode. The D minor, completed in February 1785, is the first of these. It is scored for flute, two each of oboes, bassoons and horns, strings, trumpets and timpani. Trumpets and timpani are silent during the “Romanze”.

1st Movement Allegro

The orchestral tutti opens with the D minor first subject. This suggests dark threatening skies, emphasised by syncopation and dynamic contrasts.

For a brief while the louring mood is relieved by the second subject, which has modulated into F major. The solo piano makes its entry with a plaintive new theme back in D minor – a little theme that refuses to go away. As the development progresses Mozart reviews all his themes, and presses onwards to a rather stormy climax leading to the cadenza. Mozart left no written cadenzas for this work. When the score came into the hands of Beethoven, he immediately decided that such a dramatic movement as this sorely needed one. He promptly sat down and wrote the shadowed brilliance that will be played by today’s soloist.

2nd Movement Romanze

This opens in BI major, and is cast in the mould of a Rondo. One is immediately struck by the music’s lyrical calming aura, but any complacency is shattered by the turbulent G minor middle section. Fortunately this proves to be short-lived, and the movement is brought to an end in what might be described as the emphasised calm of its opening.

3rd Movement Rondo: Allegro assai

The final movement opens in D minor. Its sense of determination is tempered by the varying minor tonalities of the themes introduced by the solo piano. By contrast, the second principal theme – in F major – is more lithe and graceful. The other themes in the minor tonalities are still there, lurking, and eventually they lead into Beethoven’s dramatic cadenza. Out of this the second subject emerges, dressed in the brighter key of D major. As Mozart brings his Concerto to a close, he introduces brief fanfares from the trumpets, which help to relieve any burden that his music may have been carrying.