Accompanied by the Orchestre de Paris, the German pianist and conductor Christoph Eschenbach performs Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 12 in A major, K. 414, for his 70th birthday. Eschenbach also conducts the orchestra. Recorded on February 20, 2010, at the Salle Pleyel, Paris.
Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 12
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 12 in A major, K. 414, is one of the great jewels in his crown of keyboard concertos. Composed at the end of 1782 in Vienna, this concerto reflects Mozart’s deep understanding of the concerto form and his ability to integrate the piano and orchestra in a harmonious dialogue.
By the time Mozart composed this concerto, he had already firmly established himself in Vienna, having left Salzburg and its limited musical opportunities behind. The city of Vienna offered him a more cosmopolitan environment, exposing him to various musical styles and influences, which enriched his compositional technique.
The Piano Concerto No. 12 is notable for its elegant and lyrical themes, its balance between virtuosity and expressive depth, and its clear showcase of Mozart’s genius for musical architecture. The interplay between the solo piano and the orchestra is seamless, with neither overpowering the other. This ensures that the concerto is not just a platform for soloistic display but a cohesive musical journey where all the participants – soloist and orchestra – contribute to the narrative.
Interestingly, Mozart was also known to make business-savvy decisions. Aware of the varied musical abilities of his potential clientele, he noted that this concerto was composed in such a way that it could be performed not just with a full orchestra but also in a more intimate setting with just a string quartet accompanying the piano. This flexibility undoubtedly broadened the concerto’s appeal to amateur musicians and increased its accessibility, making it a favorite choice for many music lovers during his time and in the years that followed.
Over time, Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 12 has continued to be celebrated for its musical depth, clarity, and the sheer joy it brings to both performers and listeners. It’s a testament to Mozart’s ability to craft timeless music that speaks to the heart.
With start times in the video:
- 0:55 Allegro
- 11:20 Andante
- 20:20 Allegretto
The first movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 12 in A major, K. 414, is marked as “Allegro.”
This opening movement is in sonata-allegro form, a common structure for classical first movements. It begins with a double exposition, which is a hallmark of the concerto genre. In the double exposition, the main themes are introduced first by the orchestra and then re-introduced by the soloist with variations and embellishments.
The themes Mozart presents are quintessentially Classical in nature: they are clear, lyrical, and beautifully balanced. The main theme, introduced by the orchestra, is gracious and flowing, with a sense of elegant simplicity. When the piano makes its entrance, it not only revisits these themes but also introduces new material, elaborating upon and ornamenting the melodies. This gives the soloist a chance to showcase both technical prowess and musicality.
The development section of the movement delves into these themes, providing variations and exploring different key centers. Mozart masterfully weaves the piano and orchestra together, allowing them to converse, compete, and cooperate. This interaction is one of the hallmarks of a great concerto, and Mozart’s skill in this domain is second to none.
As the movement progresses towards the recapitulation, the earlier themes are revisited, but with a renewed sense of purpose and direction. The movement concludes with a sense of completeness and resolution.
Throughout this Allegro, there’s a delightful interplay between the orchestra and the piano, with both given moments to shine and to support each other. The mood is largely bright and optimistic, characteristic of Mozart’s major key works, and the craftsmanship in theme development and variation is a testament to his genius.
The second movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 12 in A major, K. 414, is marked “Andante.” This movement offers a contrast to the vivacious energy of the opening Allegro, presenting a more introspective and lyrical character.
The Andante exudes a calm, meditative quality. It’s in a ternary (ABA) form, providing a clear structure wherein the main theme (A) is presented, followed by a contrasting section (B), and then a return to the initial theme.
The piano begins this movement, introducing the principal theme — a beautifully crafted, song-like melody that is both expressive and melancholic. This theme is adorned with delicate ornamentations, showcasing Mozart’s gift for creating melodies that speak directly to the heart.
The contrasting middle section offers a change in mood and tonality. Here, Mozart introduces a more dramatic, somewhat restless theme that provides a foil to the serene character of the movement’s opening. The dialog between the piano and orchestra becomes more intense and intricate in this section, with both entities exchanging musical ideas and sentiments.
As the movement progresses to the return of the A section, the initial theme is revisited, but with subtle variations. The interplay between the orchestra and piano remains tender and collaborative, leading to a gentle conclusion that retains the introspective mood set at the beginning.
The finale of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 12 is marked “Allegretto.”
This final movement brings a delightful and jovial conclusion to the concerto. It possesses a rondo form, which is characterized by the recurrent return of a principal theme (the rondo theme) interspersed with contrasting episodes. This structure gives the movement a playful and lively nature, as the recurring theme provides familiarity while the contrasting sections offer variety and surprise.
The principal rondo theme, introduced by the piano, is sprightly and rhythmically engaging. It has an unmistakable charm and lightness, embodying the grace and wit often associated with Mozart’s compositions. As the movement progresses, this theme will be revisited multiple times, each time offering a sense of joyous return.
The episodes between the returns of the rondo theme provide contrast in terms of melodic material and mood. They sometimes veer into minor keys or offer thematic transformations, showcasing Mozart’s inventiveness and his ability to weave a rich tapestry of musical ideas within a single movement.
The piano and orchestra continue their collaborative dance in this movement, with moments of virtuosic display for the soloist juxtaposed against sections where the orchestra takes the lead. There’s a sense of musical conversation throughout, reflecting the camaraderie and dialogue that’s central to the concerto form.
The movement, and consequently the concerto, concludes on a buoyant and optimistic note, leaving the listener with a feeling of exhilaration and satisfaction.
Christoph Eschenbach (born February 20, 1940, in Wroclaw) was a war orphan, raised in Schleswig-Holstein and Aachen by his mother’s cousin, the pianist Wallydore Eschenbach. Her lessons laid the foundation of his illustrious musical career. Following his studies with Eliza Hansen (piano) and Wilhelm Brückner-Rüggeberg (conducting), he won notable piano awards – such as the ARD Competition Munich 1962 and the Concours Clara Haskil 1965 – that helped to pave the way for his growing international fame.
Supported by mentors such as George Szell and Herbert von Karajan, the focus of Christoph Eschenbach’s career increasingly moved to conducting: He was Principal Conductor and Artistic Director of the Tonhalle Orchestra, Zurich from 1982 to 1986, Musical Director of Houston Symphony from 1988 to 1999, Artistic Director of the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival from 1999 to 2002, Musical Director of the NDR Symphony Orchestra from 1998 to 2004, the Philadelphia Orchestra from 2003 to 2008 and the Orchestre de Paris from 2000 to 2010.
From 2010 to 2017, Eschenbach held the position of Musical Director of the Washington National Symphony Orchestra. Alongside his prestigious appointments, Eschenbach has always attached great importance to his extensive activities as a guest conductor, working with orchestras such as the Vienna and Berlin Philharmonic Orchestras, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Staatskapelle Dresden, the New York Philharmonic, Scala Milano, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, as well as the NHK Symphony Orchestra, Tokyo.
Over the course of five decades, Christoph Eschenbach has built an impressive discography, both as a conductor and a pianist, with a repertoire ranging from J.S. Bach to contemporary music. Many of his recordings have gained benchmark status and have received numerous awards, including the German Record Critics’ Prize, the MIDEM Classical Award and a Grammy Award. For many years, Eschenbach’s preferred Lied partner has been the baritone Matthias Goerne. In recordings and in live performances, e.g. at the Salzburg Festival, the two perfectly matched artists have explored the rich treasures of the German Romantic period, from Schubert to Brahms.
Christoph Eschenbach has been awarded the Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur, and is a Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres; he is a holder of the German Federal Cross of Merit and a winner of the Leonard Bernstein Award.
- Rachmaninoff: The Bells [Kolokola] [Radio Filharmonisch Orkest, Groot Omroepkoor, Karina Canellakis] - February 25, 2024
- Tchaikovsky: Piano Trio [Kantorow, Petrova, Pascal] - February 24, 2024
- Jussi Björling sings La Donna è Mobile - February 23, 2024