Mozart Concerto No. 23

SUNDAY, February 23, 2020

TUESDAY, February 25, 2020

(This is a very unusual Mozart concerto because although it is written in major, it flips to minor for the second movement. I’ve set the video to start where that switch happens. You can listen to the whole thing by sliding the drag bar to the beginning, but I really want you to listen to the slow movement first. Try experiencing that darker and more thoughtful mood first, then listen to the whole concerto, if possible to notice how important that switch is. That switch only happens five times in all 27 concertos, and it never happens – EVER – in the symphonies or pianos sonatas.)

This whole post is blue, because I’m thinking of “blue” as perhaps just a little bit darker in mood. That is how this makes me feel.)

The Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major, K. 488 (1786)…

It was finished, according to Mozart’s own catalogue, on March 2, 1786, two months prior to the premiere of his opera, Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro), and supposedly the next concerto was completed less than a month later. Obviously he worked on several things at the same time, but he finished things astonishingly fast, unlike Beethoven who struggled and revised things for years. Things were easy for Mozart. He was easily one of the most intelligent composers who ever lived, something that obviously did not make him any smarter managing his life, but that’s another matter for another time.

Premiere by Mozart?

We think so, since no one his age played as well, and his concertos were mostly – and perhaps entirely – written as performance vehicles for himself. So usually he premiered his own piano music, but always remember that the piano he played on was a very different instrument from what we hear today, and I personally do not enjoy the sound of that old sound and avoid it.


Piano solo, one flute, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns and strings. It’s a smaller ensemble. No trumpets, no oboes, only one flute, no timpani. The music is quite intimate. The slow movement is one of the most beautiful ever written, Mozart at his absolute best.

Vladimir Horowitz…

This video is famous, but also infamous. He was either well over 80 years old here.

There are those who hate his playing in Mozart, saying that it is not polished and understated enough, and too harsh. The idea is that Mozart somehow was “spiritual”, or his music was. For me this absolute contradicts both reason and intuition, because Mozart was a free spirit and in all ways an outrageous rule breaker.

I don’t like listening to people who don’t take chances…

One of the things I hate most is the way people play his music in a way that is conservative, limited in dynamics and somehow “safe”. I think he had more in common with Beethoven than most people realize. Certainly these two composers were radically different, but I like players who emphasize dynamic contrasts and play some parts with a harder edge so that the softer and more subtle places take on greater interest because of bringing out opposite qualities. This is by far my favorite performance, by a mile, and my opinion is not unique, but there are also others who see the whole matter in a totally opposite way.

Even if you don’t like the interpretation, watch how he does it…

But what I will point out for my students is the absolute relaxation in his body and hands, the lack of faces and stupid gestures. Also, he is using music, and why more pianists do not use scores not only surprises me but also infuriates me. The idea that we play better without music is totally false and is an idea meant to impress other people who know nothing about music.

A totally different conception…

I completely stand up for his interpretation, because the playing is very very good, although totally different from Horowitz’s. This young player is well worth listening to, but he is another guy I can’t watch. Just remember – even if you like what he is doing, and I also like it – that all those faces don’t do anything. Someone trained him to play that way, and now it’s too late to stop the nonsense. Worse is the fact that he’s headed for back and shoulder problems. If he does not cure some of his bad habits, he won’t have a long career. And yet the music is great.


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