Mozart — Piano Concertos

Mozart wrote three of his finest piano concertos, nos 23, 24 and 25, in a single year. Beauty, passion and grace combine as the piano engages in an intimate dialogue with the orchestra.


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When?

Mozart writes his Piano Concertos Nos 23, 24 and 25 — as well as overseeing the successful premiere of his opera The Marriage of Figaro — in 1786, the same year that:

  • America’s first organisation dedicated to the performance of music, the Stoughton Musical Society, is founded in Massachusetts. The first collection of music acquired by the Society includes Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus — the first American printing of the work.
  • Mont Blanc is conquered for the first time, by mountaineer Jacques Balmat (later named ‘le Mont Blanc’ in honour of his achievement) and physician Michel Paccard. The ascent is generally considered to mark the beginning of modern mountaineering.
  • Caroline Herschel — a German-born astronomer working in England — discovers the first of eight comets that she will identify over an eleven-year period. The first female to receive a financial income for her scientific endeavours, Herschel will receive the Gold Medal for Science from the King of Prussia at the age of 96, one year before her death in 1849.
  • The Kanding-Luding earthquake, in Sichuan province of south-west China, causes a landslide which blocks the Dadu River. The dam breaks ten days later, causing flooding that extends almost 1,500 km and kills 100,000 people.
  • And in Vienna, Mozart completes his Piano Concertos Nos 23, 24 and 25 — as well as overseeing the successful premiere of his opera The Marriage of Figaro.

Fast Facts

  • A concerto is a piece for solo instrument and orchestra. Usually, it’s in three movements, each with its own pace and mood; the most common pattern is to have two fast movements with a slow one in between.
  • Mozart wrote more than 40 concertos, for a range of solo instruments — violin, horn, bassoon, clarinet, oboe, flute and harp — but more than half of them (27, in fact) feature the piano as soloist. Some of these were written for his students to play, but many of them, including the four in this collection, he performed himself to great acclaim in concerts in Vienna.
  • The piano was a relatively new instrument in Mozart’s time. Unlike the harpsichord, it was able to play softly, loudly and anything in between; notes could also be held for much longer, thanks to the sustain pedal, making it possible to produce a smooth, singing tone. Mozart took full advantage of these qualities, especially in the slow movements, which feature eloquent, often soulful melodies for the piano soloist.
  • In most concertos of Mozart’s time (and right through the Classical and Romantic periods, into the 20th century), the first movement had a particular structure, called ‘sonata form’. This consists of three parts: first, an Exposition, in which two contrasting themes (melodies) are presented, one after the other. In the second part, the Development, those themes are used to take the music in new directions: played in different keys, or with different accompaniment, or combined together in different ways, either as whole melodies or even just picking out distinctive elements of the melody or rhythm. The Development section often culminates in a Cadenza, where the orchestra stops playing to let the soloist show off their virtuosity. The movement ends with the Recapitulation, which returns to the original themes. These three sections give the music a sense of direction — of establishing a musical home ground, travelling away from it, and then coming safely home again.
Drawing of Mozart in silverpoint, made by Dora Stock during Mozart’s visit to Dresden, April 1789