Mozart, “Look, mum – four hands!”

A quick glance at recent posts suggests my choice of music in the last weeks may have erred on the melancholy, if not introspective. Time to open the curtains and let in some sun.

Mozart wrote 23 concertos for piano and orchestra. They are filled with tunes which are sometimes impossible to get out of your head, but unlike nagging commercial jingles, I’m never too bothered if they linger. Number 10, probably written in 1779 when Wolfgang was all of 20, was composed for two pianos and is about as exuberant a piece as you will ever hear.

His older sister, Maria Anna, was every bit as talented as her gifted sibling and their pushy dad, Leopold, was at pains to advance both their talents at any opportunity. They would often perform together, so it is quite possible that Mozart wrote the concerto for that purpose. It’s unlikely, however, that such an occasion took place, because by 1779 Nanneri, as she was known, was of marriageable age, and it simply wasn’t done for ladies in that position to be cavorting their talents in public.

Image result for maria anna mozart

Leopold would have known this, which makes his helicopter-parent approach somewhat questionable. We do know that Mozart played it with one of his pupils a few years later (Josepha Barbara von Auernhammer, if you are setting the questions in your next pub quiz and want to silence the room).

The last of the three movements is a joyous Rondo. The unusual aspect of this work is that most of the dialogue is concentrated between the two pianos, rather than between solo instrument and orchestra, as was the norm. The piece is now some 240 years old and the performers would have been playing under candlelight, possibly on instruments not unlike this –

Contrast this with today’s clip, here played by the late Sir Georg ‘Screaming Skull’ Solti and Daniel Barenboim. The pianos are vast, and it is hard not to imagine how the mischievous Mozart  would have reveled in laying his hands on one. Solti also conducts the orchestra, he just can’t resist meddling, but in truth his direction is totally unnecessary for this work: its role is no more than supportive in a teasing, lyrical and lively conversation between the two Steinways.

The key is Eb flat major, a point only worth observing because it is the same key that Beethoven later scored his Emperor Piano Concerto and Eroica symphony, both of them uplifting and life-affirming works: there are moments when Solti almost seems to be playing Beethoven, while Barenboim stays rooted to the playfulness and charm of Mozart.

The mingling of the soloists is exquisite, shut your eyes and you can barely separate them. Unbridled joy.

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