Mozart Piano Concerto No. 25, K. 503

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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791), Concerto No. 25  for Piano in C Major, K. 503. 

I. Allegro maestoso; II. Andante;  III. Finale: Allegretto. Composed: December 4, 1786, Vienna.

There are compositions that have garnered praise for deriving all of their material from a single motif. The Fifth Symphony of Beethoven is an emblematic work of this kind: so many details arise directly from the opening motif “pa-pa-pa pum, pa-pa-pa pum.” Then there are compositions endowed with thematic riches that dazzle through a seemingly endless procession of appealing and diverse melodies and figurations, the comings and goings of which the composer manages in novel ways. The Piano Concerto No. 25 in C belongs to the second category. Even though in the concerto “pa-pa-pa pum, pa-pa-pa pum” is a prominent motif, whose hammer blows rain down in the first movement with as much force as they do in Beethoven’s Fifth, this motif is just one of many. Mozart’s concerto bursts at the seams with melodic inventiveness. And with so many moving parts and myriad themes, the composer must know when and how to deploy its many songs so as to make the most compelling musical form possible. Which themes will resolve, and which themes will dissolve? Which themes will follow the order laid out in the opening orchestral ritornello, and which themes will emerge out of nowhere? This is anybody’s guess! Concertos are like snowflakes:n no two are alike.

Compositionally speaking, Mozart integrated the basic idea of concerto—a composition creating a dynamic alternation of ensemble (tutti) and solo passages—with the genre of sonata such that the alternations between solo and tutti would articulate and further dramatize the action zones of the sonata. And Mozart did this to the most refined degree.

The concerto begins forthrightly, with martial rhythms and a fully symphonic orchestration, but its opening phrase ends equivocally with a response in the major that drifts toward the minor. It’s this drift to the minor that suggests the possibility of a musical journey that is not easily predictable. Who could say that the exposition would present themes in E-flat major and G major and then open the development in E minor, as it continues its drift through new keys?

Mozart’s Andante second movement is adventurous in its lyricism, exploring wide contrasts of the piano’s range throughout a somewhat loose-knit sonata design. The melodic writing is reminiscent of Mozart’s recently composed opera, The Marriage of Figaro. But ambivalence about major and minor returns in the Allegretto, whose tunefulness and rhythmic vitality make for a lively and fun finale.  

During the mid-1780s time, Mozart was living with his wife and children in Vienna. The K. 503 was the last of nearly a dozen piano concertos composed at this time. A half- dozen string quartets dedicated to Haydn and The Marriage of Figaro round out Mozart’s production. Busy as he was, he was also far too sedentary. And it was during the spring of 1787 that Mozart received some excellent medical advice: get some exercise! So Mozart began taking horseback rides each morning.

What was Mozart like at the piano? Wolfgang Hildesheimer reflects:

Contemporaries report that when he was playing the piano, especially when improvising, he became that other human being they would have liked him to be in his daily life. His expression changed; he seemed to become serene. Many contemporaries vouch for the fact that he played very simply, without stretching the rhythm, without exaggerated rubati, without extravagant dynamics; eh sat calmly, hardly moving his body, showing no feelings…Here, and perhaps only here, he achieved true pleasure in his own genius; here he transcended himself, becoming the absolute Mozart.

In this sense, the concerto is not only a great work in itself, but an indirect reflection of Mozart the improviser, the absolute Mozart.

Instrumentation:  Flute, two oboes, two bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, timpani, strings and solo piano.