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Igor Stravinsky

Igor Stravinsky

Concerto in D, Basel (12 min)

Francis Poulenc

Francis Poulenc

Le bal masqué (The Masked Ball) (18 min)

John Moore, baritone
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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Piano Concerto No. 20 (30 min)

By the age of 24, Mozart had long outgrown his early fame as a child prodigy and his hometown of Salzburg, where he lived under the shadow of his controlling father and worked for a troublesome archbishop. Just as his frustrations were reaching a boiling point, Mozart received a welcome invitation to compose an opera in Munich, and following that boost he made a bold leap to strike out as a freelancer in Vienna. He soon established himself as the leading keyboard virtuoso in the imperial capital, and he built up a loyal following of patrons who would subscribe to his self-produced concerts. He earned particular renown for his piano concertos, of which he introduced 15 (out of a lifetime total of 27) just in the period from 1782–1786.

Mozart finished a Piano Concerto in D Minor on February 10, 1785, the day before its debut on his new subscription series. One hundred fifty-one patrons registered for six concerts at the Mehlgrube (a concert venue in Vienna’s flour market), a separate endeavor from the “Academy” concerts Mozart hosted at the larger Burgtheater. According to Mozart’s father Leopold, the frantic composer did not even have time to play through the Finale before the performance, since he still had to finish copying out the orchestral parts.

This concerto’s key of D minor invites comparison to the opera Don Giovanni, composed two years later and filled with music of similar tension and foreboding in that same key. Delicate major-key contrasts and serene piano meditations offset the dark rumblings of the opening Allegro movement, but the pervasive D minor mood does not release its grip, yet.

The label of “Romance” links the slow movement to an earlier style of simple, heartfelt vocal music. The main theme is disarming in its sincerity, with only a few modest ornaments for decoration as the piano elaborates the melody in conversation with the orchestra. The idyll breaks for a central minor-key episode, reintroducing some of the fervor of the outer movements, but the cozy tune returns.

The finale examines a different aspect of D minor, with lively and extroverted music that recalls the taut angularity and linear drive of Bach’s pioneering keyboard concertos. A whimsical contrasting theme, heard first in F major, returns in D major after the cadenza, ushering the concerto out on a cheery note.

Aaron Grad ©2017

About This Program

Approximate length 1:30


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