Accompanied by the Concertgebouw Kamerorkest (Concertgebouw Chamber Orchestra), the Austrian pianist Elisabeth Leonskaja performs Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 12 in A major, K. 414. Recorded during the Sunday Morning Concert on March 12, 2023, at The Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 12
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 12 in A major, K. 414, was composed in the winter of 1782-83. The piece is considered one of Mozart’s early Vienna concertos, and it’s distinctive in its elegant A major tonality, often imbued with a spirit of lightness and grace.
While it may not be as dramatic as some of Mozart’s later concertos, this work is significant for its mature handling of the classical concerto form. It’s reflective of the time in which it was written, a period when the composer had just moved to Vienna and was making a name for himself as both a composer and a performing pianist. As was common for Mozart, the piece was probably intended to be performed by himself, and it was undoubtedly designed to appeal to the Viennese public.
This concerto is particularly interesting because Mozart provided an optional string accompaniment, making it adaptable for either a chamber ensemble or a full orchestra. This versatility indicates that Mozart was considering practicality and the diverse circumstances under which the concerto might be performed. Whether played in a more intimate setting or a grand concert hall, the piece loses none of its inherent charm or technical brilliance.
It was one of three concertos (K. 413, K. 414, and K. 415) that Mozart wrote as a set, which were aimed at a broad audience. They were advertised as pieces “which could be performed with full orchestra including wind instruments, or only a quattro – that is, with two violins, one viola, and violoncello.” This made them highly appealing because they could suit different musical settings and resources. They were indeed successful, as reflected by their publication and various performances during Mozart’s lifetime.
Another feature that adds to the allure of the Concerto No. 12 is its structural sophistication. While not diving into the specific movements, it’s worth noting that Mozart creatively manipulates classical forms, expertly balancing themes and musical development in a way that was both innovative for its time and accessible to listeners. The harmonic language is rich but not overly complex, highlighting Mozart’s uncanny ability to create depth from simplicity.
Regarding the Concerto No. 12’s influence, it is worth mentioning that the work was held in high regard by later composers. Beethoven, for instance, had a great admiration for Mozart’s concertos, and the influence can be traced to his own compositions for the piano.
Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 12 is in three movements. With start times in the video:
- [00:00] Allegro
- [10:40] Andante
- [19:26] Allegretto
The first movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 12 in A major, K. 414, is marked “Allegro,” and it adheres to the classical sonata-allegro form that was the norm for concertos of the period. Sonata-allegro form comprises an exposition, development, and recapitulation, which provide a structural framework for the thematic and harmonic elements to interact and evolve.
In this movement, Mozart effectively balances the dialogue between the soloist and the orchestra, a characteristic hallmark of his mature style. The opening theme introduced by the orchestra is bright and optimistic, typical of the A major tonality. As the solo piano enters, Mozart skillfully navigates the thematic material, exploring different keys and adding ornamentations, but without straying too far from the original theme. This serves both to showcase the pianist’s technical abilities and to maintain the thematic unity of the movement.
The development section serves as the emotional and harmonic core of the movement, with Mozart delving into different key centers and exploring variations on the themes introduced in the exposition. The mood can get more intense here, offering a contrast to the buoyant character of the exposition. By the time the recapitulation arrives, the themes are reintroduced but with subtle variations, providing a sense of closure while also showcasing the piano’s virtuosity one final time.
In terms of harmonic language, the movement doesn’t stray into overly complex territory but is still sophisticated in its handling of key relationships and modulations. This is a hallmark of Mozart’s genius-his ability to create music that is at once accessible yet deeply rewarding upon closer examination.
There’s a certain operatic quality in the way Mozart allows the piano and the orchestra to interact. It’s almost as if they are characters in a drama, each contributing to the unfolding story. This interplay is a key part of what makes this movement, and indeed the whole concerto, memorable.
The second movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 12 in A major, K. 414, is marked “Andante,” which instructs the tempo to be at a walking pace. This movement serves as the emotional core of the concerto, providing a contrast to the exuberance of the first movement and the spirited nature of the third. Characterized by its lyrical qualities, it offers the listener a moment of introspection and emotional depth.
While the first movement showcases a dialogue between the piano and the orchestra, the second movement is often seen as more of a monologue for the piano. The soloist gets the opportunity to explore the thematic material in a more nuanced and intimate manner. The orchestration is subtle, providing a delicate backdrop to the piano’s musings, yet it’s effective in coloring the overall emotional palette.
Harmonically, the movement frequently relies on simple but poignant chord progressions, enabling the thematic material to stand out. The harmonic language may appear straightforward at first glance, but the simplicity serves the expressive intent well, allowing room for the melody to breathe. The harmonic subtleties work in service of the expressive melody lines, rather than overwhelming them with complexity. This aligns with the Classical-era aesthetic of balance and proportion, even when the music aims to touch on deeper emotional aspects.
The movement often features ornamentations and embellishments, allowing the soloist to demonstrate a different kind of virtuosity compared to the first movement, less about technical fireworks and more about emotional expression and control over phrasing and dynamics. This makes the Andante a showcase for the performer’s ability to convey a wide range of emotions within a relatively confined musical structure.
Mozart’s skill in crafting this movement lies in his ability to create a sense of emotional narrative without the need for overwrought complexity. He draws the listener in with the beauty of the main theme, takes them on a nuanced, emotional journey, and then brings them back to a state of equilibrium by the movement’s conclusion.
Like many of Mozart’s slow movements in his concertos, the Andante from this particular concerto captures a wide range of human emotions in a short span of time, making it a timeless piece that resonates with audiences even today.
The finale of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 12 is marked “Allegretto,” suggesting a moderately fast tempo that’s not as brisk as an Allegro. This final movement serves as a joyful conclusion to the concerto, encapsulating the classical virtues of balance, clarity, and proportion. It is generally structured in the Rondo form, a recurring pattern of themes often denoted as ABACA, where ‘A’ is the main theme or refrain, and ‘B’ and ‘C’ are contrasting episodes.
The ‘A’ theme typically presented at the start is cheerful and dance-like, embodying the optimistic spirit of A major. This theme serves as the anchor point for the movement, recurring between contrasting episodes. The episodes (‘B’ and ‘C’ sections) may venture into different key centers and moods, providing variety and contrast, yet they always resolve back to the home key and the recurring ‘A’ theme. This gives the listener a sense of familiarity and cohesion throughout the movement.
The Allegretto is also a testament to Mozart’s wit and humor, often incorporating playful elements that might include syncopations, trills, and other ornamentations that add a sense of whimsy. This lightness doesn’t mean the music lacks complexity; rather, the brilliance of Mozart is how he makes something intricate seem effortless.
The relationship between the soloist and the orchestra remains collaborative, similar to the first movement but without the same level of dramatic tension. Instead, the emphasis is on unity and the joyous sharing of musical ideas. The piano part remains virtuosic but in a manner that serves the music’s cheerful character.
In the harmonic realm, the movement exhibits Mozart’s mastery of seamlessly modulating between keys while maintaining a sense of natural flow. Even though the harmonic structure is rooted in Classical norms, Mozart’s handling of it adds freshness and originality.
The third movement wraps up the concerto in a way that leaves the listener uplifted, completing an emotional arc that traverses different moods and characters across the three movements. It’s a testament to Mozart’s genius that he could create music that is at once profound yet accessible, complex yet utterly enjoyable.
Elisabeth Leonskaja is a distinguished pianist of Russian-Austrian origin, born on November 23, 1945, in Tbilisi, Georgia, which was then part of the Soviet Union. She demonstrated prodigious musical talent from a young age, eventually entering the Moscow Conservatory to further her studies. Her talents were quickly recognized, and she won prizes in several prestigious international piano competitions, including the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow and the Queen Elisabeth Music Competition in Brussels.
Leonskaja garnered attention not just for her technical prowess, but also for her deep interpretative skills. She became particularly known for her performances of works by composers like Franz Schubert, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Ludwig van Beethoven. Her style is often described as both powerful and introspective, embodying a blend of Russian depth and Western clarity, making her one of the most versatile pianists of her generation.
In 1964, Elisabeth Leonskaja won the Enesco International Piano Competition in Bucharest. The judges included the Soviet Armenian composer and conductor Aram Khachaturian and the Polish-American pianist Arthur Rubinstein.
In 1978, Leonskaja emigrated from the Soviet Union to Vienna, Austria, and she became an Austrian citizen in 1988. The move to Vienna allowed her greater artistic freedom and opened up opportunities for international performances. Since then, she has been a regular guest with many of the world’s top orchestras and has performed at numerous international music festivals. Her recordings have also received critical acclaim and several awards.
Leonskaja’s artistry is often characterized by her meticulous attention to detail, depth of emotion, and rigorous understanding of the musical structure. Her wide-ranging repertoire spans from Classical to Romantic and even into 20th-century works. Over the years, she has continued to evolve, displaying a kind of artistic integrity that has made her one of the most respected pianists in the classical music world.
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