- Concerto in D minor for Piano, Flute, and Strings, K. 466 (1785) (arr. Carl Czerny)
Rondo: Allegro assai
Anne-Marie McDermott, piano • Tara Helen O'Connor, flute • Sean Lee, violin • Bella Hristova, violin • Paul Neubauer, viola • Mihai Marica, cello • Timothy Cobb, bass
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Salzburg, 1756 – Vienna, 1791)
This piano concerto is one of Mozart’s most famous. It has demonstrated remarkable staying power, remaining popular from its premiere on February 11, 1785 through the 19th century (when some of his other music went out of fashion) to today. It received a glowing review from one of Mozart’s toughest critics—his father—at the premiere. In a letter to Mozart’s sister, his father described the evening’s success after Mozart barely finished the piece in time:
“On Friday evening at six o'clock we went to [Mozart’s] first subscription concert, where there were many important people… The concert was incomparable, the orchestra excellent… There was a new excellent piano concerto by Wolfgang, which was still being copied when we arrived. Your brother didn’t even have time to play through the Rondo because he had to oversee the copying.”
The rushed timeline is corroborated by Mozart’s catalogue, where he recorded completing the piece the day before the premiere. In typical Mozart fashion, a work he hastily composed and barely practiced quickly entered the repertoire. After Mozart’s death, the following generations embraced the work—Beethoven, Brahms, Busoni, and Clara Schumann all published their own cadenzas. The concerto was both a favorite of large Romantic orchestras and arranged to perform at home and in salons. Viennese composer/pianist Carl Czerny made tonight’s arrangement for flute and string quartet (with bass added for this performance). He left the solo part unaltered while expertly arranging just four string parts and a contrasting flute to capture the energy and excitement of a full orchestra.
Of Mozart’s 23 piano concertos, only two are in minor keys (this one and one in C minor from the following year). The music is Mozart at his most Romantic—stormy, dark, and full of drama. The first movement is the weightiest and gave the piece its long lasting appeal. Starting with the driving, offbeat D minor accompaniment in the ensemble, to the unassuming piano entrance, and through spirited passagework, this movement is vigorously tempestuous. The second movement is a complete turnaround, a calm and collected Romance, until the stormy mood from the first movement breaks in for a starkly contrasting middle section. The last movement is a frenetic romp in D minor before an upbeat major-key finale ends the work on a positive note.
This Mozart concerto performance stands out in my memory as an absolutely joy-filled and exhilarating experience. What a group of musicians to play a Mozart concerto with. I so love this arrangement of the D minor concerto by Carl Czerny. Somehow he captured the spirit and drama of this music with so few instruments—just the addition of the flute to the ensemble brings more depth to the work. I worship the cadenzas in this concerto that were written by Beethoven—they are a pianist’s dream!!
I find that playing a Mozart concerto with more intimate forces gives the music greater flexibility and intimacy and clarity. It is a great privilege to perform Mozart concerti in this form. This work is a perfect masterpiece—how did Mozart achieve that?!
I grew up with two sisters who are musicians, Kerry (violinist) and Maureen (cellist), and I was blessed to grow up playing chamber music from a young age. It was an amazing experience to grow up in a household where music was always present.
Bedřich Smetana (Leitomischl, Bohemia, 1824 – Prague, 1884)
Before Smetana wrote his Czech operas, before he earned his place as the father of Czech music, before he became a Czech national icon, he was a struggling composer/pianist and father of four girls. And he knew tragedy. Three of his four daughters died young; only one survived to adulthood. The oldest daughter, Bedřiška (named after her father and nicknamed Fritzi), delighted Smetana with her precocious musical talent and even attended one of his concerts in her short life. Her death at age four was a particularly difficult blow to the composer. “Nothing can replace Fritzi," he wrote in his diary, “the angel whom death has stolen from us.”
Smetana wrote the piano trio in the months after Bedřiška’s death to honor her memory. It is a work of grief and yearning. It is not tightly structured but rather full of jagged twists and turns like a desolate fantasy. The opening movement is based on two themes: the first is stridently declamatory and the second is a delicate melody that Smetana said his daughter loved. Rather than following with the expected slow movement, the second movement is a skittering scherzo with two trios, one introspective and the other a grief-filled march. There are tiny wisps of the work’s opening before the quiet, uncertain end. The third movement’s main theme is a dashing cross-rhythm gallop juxtaposed with dream-like episodes. Another march takes shape before an ending that, like the Mozart, clears away much of the turmoil that came before.
Smetana premiered the original version of this trio with violinist Otto Königslöw and cellist Julius Goltermann in Prague on December 3, 1855 (three months after Bedřiška’s death) and he reported unenthusiastic reviews. However, after receiving positive feedback from Liszt the following year, he edited the first and third movements and premiered a revised version in 1857. Its honest emotional outpouring has made it a staple of the piano trio literature.
-Program notes by Laura Keller, CMS Editorial Manager
In January 1856, a month after Smetana premiered his G minor Piano Trio, he performed Mozart’s D minor Concerto in a concert celebrating the centennial of Mozart’s birth in Prague. His playing, including cadenzas based on those by early Romantic composer Johann Nepomuk Hummel, was a critical success.
I have to also say that having the opportunity to play the Smetana trio with two of my favorite artists and friends, Ida and Gary, was an absolute thrill. We had the most memorable rehearsals and discussions and it all culminated in the performance. It affirms for me why I am so in love with what I do and how humbled I am to be able to do it!
My mother took me to a concert when I was around four or five years old and it featured a piano soloist in front of an orchestra. I remember thinking that it was the most powerful and glamorous thing I had ever seen. My older sister was already playing the piano and I wanted to push her off the bench and play myself. The piano immediately attracted me. My reasons for playing have certainly evolved over the years and I have never been more attracted to it than I do now. The repertoire, the power, the colors, the challenges all remain an inspiration for me.
Coming Up Next
In the first Summer Evenings concert of the CMS Front Row series, hear Leclair's Concerto in B-flat major for Violin, Strings, and Continuo, Op. 10, No. 1, Haydn's Sonata in G major for Keyboard, Hob. XVI:40, and Dvořák's Quintet in A major for Piano, Two Violins, Viola, and Cello.