Program Notes

Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor, K. 491

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Hard at work on The Marriage of Figaro , which received its premiere at the National Court Theater of Vienna on May 1, 1786, Mozart nevertheless managed to squeeze in three of his most famous piano concertos between December 1785 and March 1786—K. 482, K. 488, and the C Minor Piano Concerto, K. 491. It is generally believed that the works were composed for Mozart’s Lenten subscription concerts at the Burgtheater. Despite the lack of supporting documentation, the composer most likely premiered the C Minor Concerto at the theater in April 1786.

The second of two concertos Mozart composed in a minor key, the C Minor is intensely dramatic—an interesting choice for a Viennese public with a seemingly insatiable desire for light theater. The work boasts one of the richest orchestrations Mozart ever employed, featuring clarinets in addition to oboes and strongly resembling the instrumentation Beethoven used fourteen years later in his First Symphony. (Beethoven often expressed his admiration for K. 491 and made clear allusions to it in his third concerto, written in the same key.) Mozart launches the opening Allegro with a fierce theme—but in triple time, an unusual feature that imbues the contrasting major sections with a lyrical lilt. The movement closes quietly, forming an almost nearly seamless transition into the ensuing Larghetto, which Alfred Einstein describes as moving in “regions of the purest and most affecting tranquility” with a “transcendent simplicity of expression.” In contrast to the Larghetto’s lyrical purity, the concluding Allegretto sounds even more dramatic. Unlike most 18th-century concerto finales—rapid, dancelike movements that serve as breathless conclusions—the finale of the C Minor Concerto is emotional and intense. As Mozart scholar John N. Burke writes, “If Mozart could be said ever to have ignored his public in a concerto and followed completely his own inner promptings, it was here.”

Program notes by
Jennifer More
© 2024

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