Accompanied by the Gulbenkian Orchestra, German-born Israeli-American pianist Menahem Pressler performs Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 as part of the “Pianomania!” concert series. Conductor: Leo Hussain. This performance took place in 2018 in the Grand Auditorium at the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation in the Portuguese capital Lisbon, when Pressler was 94 years old. Pressler passed away on May 6, 2023.
Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23
Mozart wrote the Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major, K. 488 in the year 1786 (it was finished, according to Mozart’s own catalog, on March 2), one of the major Viennese concertos composed by Mozart for his own subscription concerts. It’s one of three piano concertos where Mozart swaps oboes for clarinets.
The Piano Concerto No. 23 is regarded as one of Mozart’s most famous works, created at the same time as his opera “The Marriage of Figaro” in the Austrian capital Vienna. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart lived as a freelance composer in the city from 1781-1791.
Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 is in three movements (fast/slow/fast) as usual:
- Allegro in A major and common time: The first movement is in A major and is in sonata form. The piece begins with a double exposition, the first played by the orchestra, and the second when the piano joins in. The first exposition is static from a tonal point of view and is quite concise, the third theme is not yet revealed. The second exposition includes the soloist and is modulatory. It also includes the previously unheard third theme. The second exposition is ornamented as opposed to the first exposition which is not. The second theme has harmonic tension. This is expressed by dissonances that are played on the beat and then solved by an interval of a descending second. This is also expressed in the use of chromatics in the melody and bass lines which is a source of harmonic tension, as the listeners anticipate the arrival of the tonic.
- Adagio in F♯ minor and 6/8 time: The slow second movement, in ternary form, is somewhat operatic in tone. The piano begins alone with a theme in Siciliano rhythm characterized by unusually wide leaps. This is the only movement by Mozart in F♯ minor. The dynamics are soft throughout most of the piece. The middle of the movement contains a brighter section in A major announced by flute and clarinet that Mozart would later use to introduce the trio “Ah! taci ingiusto core!” in his 1787 opera Don Giovanni.
- Allegro assai in A major and alla breve, rondo form: The finale of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 is a sonata-rondo. It is shaded by moves into other keys as is the opening movement (to C major from E minor and back during the secondary theme in this case, for instance), and with a central section whose opening in F-sharp minor is interrupted by a clarinet tune in D major, an intrusion that, according to Girdlestone, reminds one that instrumental music at the time was informed by opera buffa and its sudden changes of point of view as well as of scene.
Menahem Pressler (16 December 1923 – 6 May 2023) was a German-born Israeli-American pianist. e and his parents fled Nazi rule in 1939; going first to Palestine, and then emigrating to the US in 1940. The rest of his family was murdered by the Nazis.
In the year 1946, the young Pressler won the Debussy International Piano Competition in San Francisco, studying thereafter in California. In 1955, he founded the world-famous “Beaux Arts Trio” and remained a member throughout its existence.
The ensemble played some 100 concerts between 1955 and 2008 and released more than 50 recordings with different constellations of musicians, before performing its final concert in 2008. Menahem Pressler still gives solo performances to this day.
- Piano Concerto No. 23 (Mozart) on Wikipedia
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