Today, I’m treating myself for having made it seven days into this by listening to a piece that I know I like and is one of the pieces that I immediately draw to mind when I think about Mozart’s supposed “greatness”. This is based almost entirely on one moment, though I enjoy the rest as well.
I’m returning to the previous piano concerto recordings by Mitsuko Uchida on the piano with the English Chamber Orchestra conducted by Jeffrey Tate.
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Piano Concerto 17 in G Major K. 453
- Opening orchestral exposition is charming and exciting. There’s a lot of pulsing in the lower instruments, which builds suspense.
- Orchestra gives the piano lots of space.
- Ah, here’s the moment. It’s teased briefly by the piano and then dodges, and then the piano and orchestra crescendo into the transition and modulation into minor. The transition is a series of cascading arpeggios as a harmonic sequence with individual lines from the winds. This is one place where I can say for certainly that I feel a sense of movement entirely due to sound.
- Similar effects are used later in the development with the winds playing ascending lines. The effect is very ethereal.
- The coda further uses this pulse effect to build tension.
- Coda’s a little spooky at times, right? I mean right when the piano ends its cadenza. That harmony is such a surprising choice.
- Interesting. Similar oboe entrance as in the “Gran Partita” 3rd movement from yesterday.
- The rest isn’t similar though.
- Steady but melancholy piano entrance.
- Then a sudden shift to minor with terrific accents from the strings.
- A series of repeating and overlapping melodies beginning with the bassoon.
- Lots of pulsing notes and chords here as well.
- A fair number of dissonances (very gentle ones) later in the movement.
- The pulsing plus the frequent back and forth between major and minor give this movement an unsettled feeling.
3. Allegretto – Presto
- Apparently, this movement’s melody is based on the song of Mozart’s pet starling.
- It’s also a theme a variations.
- It’s a fairly adorable piece (especially if you think about birds singing the melodies), but it’s often quite virtuosic for the pianist.
- The final variation before the presto section is showcases some very unexpected harmonic work. The piano does some upward scales, modulating stepwise downward in what sounds like a sequence, but the manner in which it’s done is so funny. Bless Mozart’s sense of humor.
- The presto really gives the pianist a chance to show her chops with the orchestra imitating her.
The use of a pulsing rhythm in the first two movements creates a sense of tension. It’s there also a bit in the third movement (especially in the coda), but it’s so prominent earlier in the concerto that it feels deliberate.
The use of sequences is also very effective, especially in the first movement. This is when a series of notes or harmonies is repeated in modulation, which is often then modulated several times itself. They were also prominent in the finale of Symphony 41, though of course they’re everywhere in classical music due to their usefulness and novelty. Here though, the effect – on me at least – is very powerful.
I now wonder if many of the melodies from the concerto as a whole were inspired by Mozart’s starling.
If you listen, then I hope you enjoy it!
Image by Noel Feans used on Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license