performed by Mitsuko Uchida and the English Chamber Orchestra under Jeffrey Tate, or below by the English Chamber Orchestra with Murray Perahia
The eighth concerto is the last of three from Mozart written in 1776, April of that year, and we’re back to one piano. It was written for Countess Antonia Lützow, only a few years older than Mozart at the time, and an apparently able pianist, but the work is not terribly demanding of the soloist, approachable enough that Mozart made the work do double time as a teaching aid, a very practical idea. There were also three cadenzas written for the work, of different difficulty levels, and as Wikipedia says, even one for two pianos, but I’m not sure how that would work.
Angela Hewitt, in her notes on her own recording of the work on Hyperion, says, “Even if it is less inventive and demanding than K238, it still requires a fluid technique and good musicianship…” She also points out that C major would be a key in which the composer would later find himself writing march-like themes, another example of a sort of preview of what he would later write.
The marking of this first movement, like the first movement of the sixth, uses the ‘allegro aperto’ marking, the meaning of which Hewitt said we can’t be entirely sure, but the movement is light and inviting. She also expresses that the most attractive gem of the first movement is “an expressive, ascending subject not initially introduced in the orchestral tutti, but by the piano in bar 57.”
The three movements are of almost exactly equal length, and Hewitt defends the second movement against some criticisms, notably Girdlestone’s remark of its “inexpressive meanderings”, by saying that it “has a beauty that is fragile and very touching.” I can’t say much more about it than that.
As always, it seems, at least in the three ’76 concertos, Mozart saves the best for last, again giving us a dance rondeau to finish the piece off. Hewitt mentions the work’s elegance, describing the minuet as “civilized and polite,” with a contrasting “middle section in A minor with its touches of swirling Baroque counterpoint.”
The finale obviously offers the greatest excitement, but come down to it, I have a few questions about these three concertos we’ve discussed, and a remark made by Hewitt herself is a relatable one for me.
First, what specific joys or treasures does each of these works present to us? Are there people who say “Well, I’d love to hear K. 246 today,” or “I’m quite in the mood for K. 238 this afternoon”? I’m not sure, but then again, I don’t know these works nearly as intimately as, well, just about anyone else who’s ever heard them. Even Hewitt says in her thoughts about 238 that until she began playing it more, she had never really given it much thought, but finds these early works to be of surprising beauty.
Hence, in her discussion of 246, she asks:
How is it that music that at first glance appears very naïve turns out to be so immensely clever and genial?
I second that.
So my second question is this: what is it about Mozart’s ‘galant’ style 1776 concertos (or more) that’s so simple yet so deeply satisfying? This goes against my earlier discussion (with a friend and musician) of music that’s just ‘pretty’ for the sake of being pretty and how it doesn’t carry much interest for me. That’s not the case here, and I’m at a loss to describe why. Of course, there’s far more to it than just pretty tunes, but if there were ever a composer who was almost minimalist in his content, so economically expressive, and yet so perfectly beautiful, it would be Mozart I think.
I’m left with more awe than understanding when listening to his music, because I don’t understand it intimately, and fear that if I took the time to try to figure it out myself, I’d be down a rabbit hole of trying to unlock the little mysteries of (almost) twenty more concertos. So maybe it’s kind of like a magic trick. We don’t need to see how it works to be amazed and excited about it. Just watch (or listen) and enjoy.
Maybe those were copout articles, but this is only 20-year-old Mozart, and the three concertos are a trilogy of sorts. We shall certainly get around to his later, more significant concertante works. We’ve gotten through almost half of his (numbered) symphonies, and more than half of Beethoven’s. There’s plenty of music to turn to yet, so stay tuned.