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Piano Concerto No. 12 in A major, K 414

Composed by

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

1756-1791

Orchestration

solo piano, 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, strings


Composed 1782.

I. Allegro
II. Andante
III. Allegretto

note by Katherine Baber

The Piano Concerto No. 12 in A major is still playful at times, but is also a more mature version of mastery. In the Allegro, the first theme in the violins is filled with rhythmic quirks, like Scotch snaps and other syncopations, before the transition introduces more straightforward fanfares in the winds—the “straight man” to the string section’s clowning. The second theme also is humorous, as the violins and violas skip and slip along over a tentative pizzicato bass line in the celli and basses. For the most part, the sonata form unfolds as expected, although the piano soloist seems to introduce new themes in odd places, as if they were distracted, or perhaps too full of ideas to stick to the plan. The first out-of-place theme comes in the transition, forcing the orchestra to lead the soloist back on track to the second theme and the correct key of E major. Later, when the development should begin with a familiar idea, another “new” theme appears, which upon closer inspection can be heard as a transformation of the second half of the first theme. Mozart is not truly breaking the rules of sonata form here, but fulfilling them in subtle or surprising ways.

The Andante is more straightforward, making the usual journey to the subdominant of D major and spinning out a series of variations on a theme. The first statement of the theme comes as a chorale for strings, which is affirmed by the piano soloist before proceeding to a more aria-like version. There is a melancholy minor-mode version as well, and some passages, with their oscillating accompaniment, sound more like a lullaby. The range of emotion Mozart manages to coax out of this one theme is touching—particularly when one realizes that he borrowed the melody from a mentor who had recently passed. Mozart met Johann Christian Bach during his early travels in London, and this whole movement is based on a theme from Bach’s overture to La calamita de’ cuori. The Andante is, in essence, a musical memento mori.

After a deeply felt movement like the Andante, a more restrained finale must have seemed necessary. The Allegretto is rather more graceful and sprightly than the raucous finale of the Concerto No. 9. The contrast between the third movement’s two themes—one more angular and the other in a smooth, stepwise contour—is pleasing enough. What is special, is that Mozart expands the rounded binary form to the point that it is almost equal in weight to the first movement’s sonata form. To this point in the eighteenth century, finales needed only to be quick and energetic. Here, Mozart takes the task of finishing the concerto more seriously, as if he were inspired to greater effort by the memory of his friend and mentor. This concerto also points the way forward to the Olympian finales of some later symphonies, such as the ending of the Symphony No. 41, the so-called “Jupiter” Symphony.

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