Mozart Piano Concerto no. 2 in Bb, K39

by Ashkenazy/Philharmonia or below, as usual, by Perahia/English Chamber Orchestra

Yesterday’s piece was K37, and this is K39.
It seems the young, ambitious, precocious Mozart took a break from his string of piano concertos for his K38. He wrote an opera. At eleven years old.
And then he came back to piano concertos, and that’s where we are today. Following the circle of fifths for flats, we come from F major yesterday to Bb major today.
This concerto was written only a few months after yesterday’s K37, and uses the same forces. It is a few minutes shorter, and also cast in three movements. The first and third movements come again from works by Raupach, with the slow movement coming from a work by Johann Schobert, a composer who the Mozart family apparently admired and met while they were in Paris.
Interestingly, Schobert accidentally poisoned himself, his family, and some guests when he assured them some mushrooms he cooked were not poisonous but perfectly safe to eat. He was wrong. They all died. He apparently also took offense to Leopold Mozart’s statement that his children played Schobert’s piano works with relative ease.
The first movement has more noticeable orchestration, perhaps most noticeable is really high horn parts, like in Haydn’s fifth symphony, although not as persistent as the Haydn. This movement, while shorter and not as… peppy? chipper? as its counterpart in the first seems to have somewhat more variation.
But honestly, who are we kidding? The composer was 11 years and x months old for no. 1 and 11 years and y months old for no. 2. It’s not like he had some life-changing revelation between these
two pieces. Even the composer of the source material for the outside movements is the same. So I’m not going to spend any time comparing them as if the composer had suddenly had some artistic revelation of any kind. Except he did write an opera between these two pieces, so perhaps that’s something.
The second movement is the longest of the three, which still isn’t saying much. Just to put it into perspective, these concertos were written only a few years after the series of Haydn symphonies we discussed a few weeks ago, by a composer half Haydn’s age (at the time, give or take). Interesting.
The slow movement, again, is slow. It’s not breaking any artistic ground, really, but it does feel at times like the theme from the second movement is sneaking up on us and going to break out into the theme from Beauty and the Beast or something equally familiar and friendly. Really. Listen closely. It’s there.
It’s simple and straightforward, and feels a bit… student-like and cursory, but then again, I’ve never written a piano concerto. It still has some more creative, unique little bits. It sort of goes somewhere; maybe it doesn’t get there, but at least it goes somewhere else. There are some wonderful undercurrents in the bass that really give a few sections some wonderful motion. Excellent.
The third movement is by far the lightest and most energetic, and the shortest, but not by much. There’s some more exciting interaction between piano and orchestra, and some more high horns. Again, I haven’t ever played any of this, but it feels like there’s more going on in the piano in this piece than in the last one, something slightly more to sink our teeth into.
I’m not going to lie. That last movement is quite nice. There’s more to listen to and appreciate, but I’m not going to attribute it to a suddenly-greatly improved imagination or life experience or something. Perhaps that’s what happens after you write an opera at the age of eleven. We will see with the next concertos.
There are two more ‘student concertos’ with others’ themes left, and then an original work before we get to the sonatas. See you tomorrow.

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