Piano Concerto No. 9 in E-flat major "Jeunehomme", K. 271
solo piano, 2 oboes, 2 horns, strings
Composed 1777. First performance: 4 October 1777. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, piano.
note by Katherine Baber
Mozart wrote the Piano Concerto No. 9 in E-flat major, often called “Jeunehomme,” in honor of a skilled pianist, Madame Jenové, who was the daughter of French choreographer Jean Georges Noverre. This acquaintance yielded both the concerto and the ballet Le petit riens (1778). The concerto requires an expert touch. Its galant style—while filled with singing melodies decorated with turns, grace notes, and other simple-seeming niceties—exposes any weakness of technique or sensibility on the pianist’s part. Mozart evidently thought highly of the work, as he performed it himself several times.
In the first movement, Mozart’s confidence in handling sonata form manifests in a series of subversions of audience expectation. For instance, we expect to hear the themes of the opening exposition twice, first from the orchestra and then with the soloist taking over in orderly fashion. But Mozart lets the piano interrupt the orchestra with something that is definitely not the expected repeat of the first theme, putting the orchestra in the position of having to correct the soloist. The following development requires sensitivity from both orchestra and soloist, as when the oboe carefully limns the piano’s melodic line, or the piano and strings communicate in call and response. Then the recapitulation returns us to the opening themes of the exposition, but there are more shenanigans from the soloist here. A seeming return of the first theme in the piano slips away chromatically, once again requiring the orchestra to retrieve both harmonic direction and the correct melody. Once back on course, the pianist behaves for the rest of the recapitulation, only stepping out of line for a final cadenza, which provides an opportunity for brilliant technical display.
The turn to the relative minor gives the second movement a surprising sense of drama. (A more common choice would be to move to the subdominant, still a major key, as Mozart does in the Concerto No. 12.) While not following a specific form, like a da capo aria, the Andantino is clearly operatic in tone. The throbbing, sighing lines from the string section work as well as any curtain-raising introduction. Each statement of the two contrasting themes, one mournful and the other in a bittersweet major mode, is increasingly embellished by the soloist, in full prima donna fashion.
The rondo finale—typically meant as a straightforward, rousing finish to any concerto or symphony—also takes an unexpected turn. The rondo theme is a relentless rigaudon, a folk-inspired dance in a quick duple time, each phrase of which seems to rush into the next. The episodes for the soloist should provide contrasting material, but the drastic change in tempo and meter to a minuet in the middle of the movement is shocking, if in a pleasant way. It could be that this new, more courtly dance is a nod to the gentility of Madame Jenové. Or it could simply be one more bit of fun at the audience’s expense.
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