Happy Birthday, Georg Friedrich Händel!

There was a time when silence was heard, when trees were in harmony with the grass and the song of flowers, when the afternoons were gardens of fragrances and twilights threaded their velvety harps near to the weary eyelids of the day, when the moment lasted an eternity and the longing, the reverie, the melancholy would subdue the impassioned gestures of love…

There was the realm of the pre-classical, of sensibility touched by the music of spheres, of perfect, unaffected hearing, at whose gate sublime inspirations would turn up…

Then lived on earth an Albinoni, a Pergolesi, a Marcello, a Vivaldi, a Corelli, a Haendel, a Bach. They lived, they composed, they accomplished, meeting the universal stillness with whispers of the genius dressed in transparency and serenity, and from a certain moment they disappeared in the turmoil of a world that had begun moving its armors.

Never again will there be a servant more modest and humble than the composer of paradisiac callings which we can hear – graceful blessings for the spirit – in the four seasons of perfect music…

Pre-classical.

Georg Friedrich Händel: 23 February 1685 – 14 April 1759

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11 February 1785: the Premiere of The D minor Piano Concerto

“Heavy snows and freezing temperatures accompanied Leopold and Heinrich to Vienna. They arrived on 11 February 1785 to find the apartment a hive of activity as Mozart oversaw the copying of a new piano concerto he was to play that evening at his first Mehlgrube concert of the season. During the performance, Leopold marveled at the orchestra’s ability to cope with the “superb” concerto it had to play well at sight.” 

On a stormy evening in February 1785 … 

The D minor Piano Concerto was first performed by Mozart at the Mehlgrube Casino on 11 February 1785 (one day after he had entered the work in his Thematic Catalogue). This was the first of six weekly ‘Friday concerts’ given by Mozart during spring 1785. Leopold Mozart arrived in Vienna, after a very difficult trip, just in time for the Premiere of The d Minor Concert. In a long letter written between 14 and 16 February, Leopold described the event to Nannerl, Mozart’s sister:  

“On 11 February we drove to his first subscription concert, at which a great many members of the aristocracy were present. Each person pays a souverain d’or or three ducats for these Lenten concerts. Your brother is giving them at the Mehlgrube. … The concert was magnificent and the orchestra played splendidly. … we had a new and very fine concerto by Wolfgang, which the copyist was still copying as we arrived, and the rondo that your brother did not even have time to play through, as he had to supervise the copying.”   

Mozart played The D minor Concerto again – this time in rather less haste – at a concert on 15 February in the Burgtheater, organised by the singer Elisabeth Distler. Leopold reported that on this occasion Mozart “played his new grand concerto in d minor magnificently”.   

 “We never get to bed before one o’clock and I never get up before nine. We lunch at two or half past. … Every day there are concerts (note: either Mozart’s own, or performances that he gave in concerts arranged by others); and the whole time is given up to teaching, music, composing and so forth. … If only all the concerts were over! It is impossible for me to describe the rush and bustle. Since my arrival (note: on 11 February) your brother’s fortepiano has been taken at least a dozen times to the theatre or to some other house. He has had a large fortepiano pedal made, which stands under the instrument and is about two feet longer and extremely heavy. It is taken to the Mehlgrube every Friday, and has also been taken to Count Zichy’s and Prince Kaunitz’s.” (Leopold Mozart – letter to Nannerl)  

Mozart’s piano concertos were performed in a variety of settings during his lifetime. Since relatively few halls in the eighteenth century were built expressly for presenting concerts, places originally designed for other purposes were most commonly used. Setting aside the option of outdoor concerts, Neal Zaslaw has identified three settings in which piano concertos were performed: the salon (a room intended for social gatherings of various kinds in a middle-class or aristocratic home), the hall (a large room with a high ceiling, such as might be found in palaces, stately homes, colleges, monasteries, taverns) and the theater. 

The Premiere of the Piano Concerto in D minor, K 466, took place in a hall: a large room on the second floor of the Mehlgrube, a city-owned building located on the Neuer Markt. A restaurant occupied the ground floor, and the large room on the floor above was used not only for concerts, but also for banquets and balls. In smaller adjoining rooms food and beverages were served, and gaming tables were available. According to Leopold Mozart’s reports, there were more than 150 subscribers, including “a great many members of the aristocracy”, to the concert series that Mozart presented at the Mehlgrube between 11 February and 18 March 1785. 

If we take a look on the Subscribers’ List to Mozart’s Concerts of 1784, we may have reason to believe that many of them were among the subscribers for the 1785 Concerts, so we can just imagine them taking their seats in the Mehlgrube Hall: Prince Kaunitz, Prince Galitsin, Therese von Trattner, Baroness Waldstatten, Count and Countess Thun, Princess Lichnowsky, Prince Lobkowitz, Prince Liechtenstein, Count Zichy, Count Esterhazy, Count Nostitz, Baron van Swieten, Councillor Greiner, Countess Waldstein, Count Zinzendorf, Baron Wetzlar, Princess Auersperg, Count Banffi, Ignatz von Born, Count Czernin, Prince Schwartzenberg, Countess Hatzfeld, Count Esterhazy… and many others, all people of importance and position in the Viennese society.  

Iconographic evidence suggests that in halls like the Mehlgrube the players would probably have occupied a low platform situated not at the end of the room, but against one of the long walls. The seating plan for K.466 would probably have been similar to the one recommended in 1802 by the piano-maker and Mozart pupil Nannette Stein Streicher: 

“In performing concertos, especially Mozart’s, one should move the fortepiano several feet nearer (the audience) than the orchestra is. Directly behind the piano leave just the violins. The bass-line and wind instruments should be further back, the latter more than the former.”  

“For concerts like Mozart’s, for which the featured artist actually hired the orchestra, it was usual to have only a single rehearsal, the morning of the performance. For the Premiere of The d Minor Concerto, on 11 February 1785, there was not even time to read through the finale, since Mozart was busy supervising the copying of the parts. Leopold’s report that “the orchestra played splendidly” is hard to believe, given the circumstances. (In contrast, when Leopold’s seventeen-year-old pupil Heinrich Marchand rehearsed the concerto for a performance in Salzburg on 22 March 1786, it took three playings of the finale to get the orchestra to play together and keep up with the soloist.) Adalbert Gyrowetz, one of whose symphonies was programmed in Mozart’s Mehlgrube series, noted in his presumed autobiography that Mozart had hired a “full theater orchestra” for these concerts. This was most likely the orchestra of the Burgtheater, where, four days later, on 15 February 1785, Mozart again played The D-minor Piano Concerto, in a concert given by the singer Elisabeth Distler.”   

mozarts-house-in-the-schuler-strasse

mozarthaus-vienna-the-facade-in-the-schuler-strasse 

mozarthaus-vienna-the-back-door-in-the-domgasse

The next day, Joseph Haydn, visiting Mozart’s apartment in the Schuler Strasse (nowadays entrance is on Domgasse) for a celebration that included a reading of Mozart’s last three quartets, met Leopold and remarked to him: “Before God and as an honest man, I tell you that your son is the greatest composer known to me either in person or by name…”, gratifying praise from the master Europe now acknowledged as supreme. The following evening at the Burgtheater Leopold sat in a box near that of “the very beautiful” Princess of Wurttemberg. “Your brother”, he reported to Nannerl, “played a glorious concerto, which he composed for Mlle Paradis to perform in Paris… Tears of sheer delight came to my eyes… When your brother made his exit, the Emperor saluted him with his hat and called out: “Bravo, Mozart!”  

Mozart sent Leopold his autograph score of the work (along with that of K 467, the 21st Concerto, and engraved copies of the six string quartets dedicated to Haydn) at the end of November 1785. The solo part of The d Minor Concerto was sent to Nannerl (in St Gilgen) early in 1786. Describing a subsequent performance in Salzburg by Heinrich Wilhelm Marchand on 22 March 1786, Leopold remarked that:

“As you have the clavier part, he (Marchand) played it from the score and (Michael) Haydn turned over the pages for him and at the same time had the pleasure of seeing with what art it is composed, how delightfully the parts are interwoven and what a difficult concerto it is… We rehearsed it in the morning and had to practise the rondo three times before the orchestra could manage it, for Marchand took it rather quickly.” 

A rather later performance of The D minor Concerto is recorded by Thomas Attwood in a letter to an unnamed correspondent, probably dating from 1828-1830 (Eisen). According to Attwood’s recollection of events occurring some forty years previously, Mozart “was very kind to all of Talent who came to Vienna and generally played at their Benefit Concerts with the Pianofortes … The last time I heard him, He play’d his concerto in D minor & ‘Non temere’ (…) at Storace’s Benefit (concert).” This was probably Nancy Storace’s farewell concert at the Karntnerthortheater on 23 February 1787 (Otto Erich Deutsch).”  

The autograph of The D minor Piano Concerto (on 12-stave ‘Querformat’ paper) is in the collection of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde, Vienna . It bears, on the first music-page, the legend ‘Concerto Di Amadeo Wolfgango Mozart’. Previously, it was owned by Mozart’s colleague, the Abbé Maximilian von Stadler (1748-1833). After Mozart’s death, Stadler, at Constanze’s request, began to put the remaining autograph manuscripts in order, completing a few fragmentary compositions, and cataloguing others. The first edition was published by André (Mozart, 1796), that is, three years before he purchased from Constanze a large quantity of autographs upon which his early editions of Mozart’s works were based (the exemplar for this print is not known). The autograph of The D minor Concerto was not among those autographs purchased by André in November 1799. Possibly it had already been given to Stadler by this time. A set of playing parts survives at St Peter’s, Salzburg, in which detailed instructions for ‘ripieno’ performance appear in the violin parts. Although no cadenzas to this work by Mozart are known, Beethoven composed examples for the first movement and finale. Beethoven performed the work at a benefit concert for Mozart’s widow (also attended by Count Zinzendorf) in the Karntnerthortheater, Vienna, on 31 March 1795. 

(The above text is made of excerpts from Robert W. Gutman – Mozart: A Cultural Biography, John Irving: Mozart’s Piano Concertos,  David Grayson: Mozart’s Piano Concertos nos. 20 and 21

On the site where Mozart premiered some of his most beautiful piano concertos, the Mehlgrube has turned into Hotel Ambassador. A timeline of this change can be seen on the History  page of the Ambassador Hotel. 

 

A correction to the timeline on the History page of The Ambassador (where it is specified that the old Mehlgrube was demolished in 1897): according to Dr Michael Lorenz, the old Mehlgrube was still standing in 1902, when this photo was taken:  

Neuer Markt with the old Mehlgrube on the right - still there in 1902, when the photo was taken (source of info: Dr Michael Lorenz, image from bildarchivaustria.at)

Neuer Markt with the old Mehlgrube on the right – still there in 1902, when the photo was taken (source of info: Dr Michael Lorenz, image from bildarchivaustria.at)  

Der Neue Markt, früher Mehlmarkt Richtung Norden (rechts Mehlgrube)

Neuer Markt, Mehlgrube on the right - 1760 painting by Canaletto

Mehlgrube - Ambassador 10

In the evening of 11 February 1785, at the Mehlgrube, this is how it might have sounded like… 

die-mehlgrube-am-neuen-markt-in-wien-1715-by-johann-adam-delsenbach-1687-1765

Images’ credits specified there where available,

other images from the internet, assumed to be in the public domain.

DISCLAIMER – I don’t claim credit or ownership on the images taken from the internet, assumed to be in the public domain, used here. The owners retain their copyrights to their works. I am sharing the images exclusively for educational and artistic purposes – this blog is not monetized, and has no commercial profit whatsoever. Whenever I find the credits to internet images I am happy to add them. If you are the artist or the owner of original photos/images presented on this blog and you wish your works to be removed from here, or edited to include the proper credits, please send me a message and they will either be removed or edited. Thank you! 

10 February 1785: The D Minor Piano Concerto is born

“the 10th of February. A Piano concerto. Accompaniment. 2 violins, 2 violas, 1 flute, 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 clarinets, timpani and bass”.  

It is Mozart’s entry in his hand-written catalogue of works, on a Thursday the 10th of a cold, harsh February, in Vienna. Two lines announcing the birth of one of the most beautiful musical creations humanity has ever known: The D Minor Piano Concerto.  

Of all his marvellous piano concertos, it’s the D minor I love the most. It is in resonance with my profound being. I sense each note deep in my heart… the music is breathtaking, majestic, tremendous, it fills my soul with beauty, and longing, and a bittersweet feeling that words could never explain…  

To turn the pages of Mozart’s Thematic Catalogue is pure emotion! The manuscript is Mozart’s record of his compositions in the last seven years of his life. Thanks to The British Library, we can feel this emotion, even without touching the precious paper.  

“Mozart wrote the Piano Concertos K.466 and 467 for his own use during the 1785 Lenten season, a period of hectic concert activity. He began K.466 during the third week of January, immediately after he had completed the String Quartets in A major, K.464, and C major (the so-called “Dissonant” or “Dissonance” Quartet), K.465, the last of the six quartets later dedicated to Franz Joseph Haydn. The D-minor Concerto, K.466, was completed on 10 February, the day before its premiere, which was given at the first in a series of six weekly concerts that Mozart was presenting at the Mehlgrube on successive Friday nights.

These concerts proved to be quite lucrative, attracting more than 150 subscribers, each of whom paid a souverain d’or for the series. (As a point of reference, Mozart’s annual rent for his “upper-bracket” furnished apartment was 460 gulden, or around 35 souverains d’or.) Of course he had expenses connected to the concert series, including payments to the orchestra musicians, though the hall rental for each concert was only half a souverain d’or.” (David Grayson – Piano Concertos Nos. 20 and 21)  

 

So many years years have passed since the Birth Day of The D Minor Concerto… Its beauty will last as long as the idea of humanity will.    

I call to you, Music,  

I close my eyes and see 

the Mehlgrube, 

the guests have arrived,  

the hall is filled with their murmur,  

impatient as they are for 

the concert to start, 

the musicians are holding their instruments,  

their eyes on the precious score 

lighted by the golden glow of candles,   

and then He appears…  

  

Advocate Peter Gutmann, on Classical Notes, writes about the 20th Concerto. “A piece”, he calls his work, “an essay of the heart”, I would call it. With the generous permission he himself expresses, I will end my post with excerpts from his Classical Note on the 20th Concerto.

Peter Gutmann – Mozart’s Piano Concerto in d Minor  

“Friederich Blume pinpoints its unique historical importance as the moment in which the decisive turn to the modern concerto took place. For Blume, K. 466 was the very first concerto in which conventionalisms cede to the spontaneous expression of artistic individuality and “the language of the heart.” 

The impulse for Mozart to have created the 20th is curious indeed and perhaps forever beyond our knowledge. While it is tempting to relate it to a newfound maturity or dark events in his life, biographers caution that such efforts are deceptive – Mozart wrote many of his most upbeat works at times of depression and searching ones during periods of contentment. Indeed, he often wrote his piano concerti in pairs and the very next one, # 21 in C Major, K. 467, given only weeks later, is among his most delicate and affirmative. (…) In any event, Arthur Hutchins warns that since we don’t know how long a given work gestated before it appeared, a precise set of stimuli is impossible to trace.  

Alone among the Mozart concertos, the 20th cast a strong and lasting influence. Veinus notes that it served as a springboard for the turbulence of Beethoven’s capitulation to the tragic muse which, in turn, revolutionized serious music as we know it and paved the way to the music of the next century. Indeed, it comes as no surprise that Beethoven played the work, going so far as to write out his own cadenzas which, as reflections of his own overpowering personality, exploit the dramatic implications of the material at the expense of its inherent elegance and occasional charm, bearing less stylistic similarity to the cadenzas Mozart left us for other of his concerti, which tended to be bright and often a brief fantasy built on a subsidiary theme. 

Mozart never wrote out cadenzas for this work, as he had for his nine prior concerti, for a simple and practical reason – preparations for the February 11, 1785 premiere were so rushed that the copyist was still working on the orchestral parts as the audience arrived, and so Mozart improvised on the spot. (Nor did he get a chance to rehearse the rondo, so even with the usual allowances for first performances of unfamiliar music, this one must have been especially rough.) As most concerts of the time boasted new work, and as this one was an academie – part of a subscription series in which Mozart introduced his music to well-heeled patrons – Mozart may have never performed the 20th again but merely moved on to introduce other concerti in subsequent concerts. Indeed, John Culshaw has suggested that the thinness of the solo part in the andante is deceptive, as it may not reflect the full piano role that Mozart had intended and actually played, but rather is a mere outline that he planned to flesh out during the performance and never bothered to complete. Even so, we know that at least one member of the audience was hugely impressed – the next day, Joseph Haydn, the most respected musician of the time, proclaimed Mozart to be the greatest composer he knew.  

Mozart was widely considered the greatest pianist of his time. How did he play his own work? While others’ descriptions often are partisan, vague and of varying reliability, fortunately Mozart left us copious correspondence in which he freely praised and disparaged his colleagues and thus provides a remarkably full portrait of his own ideals, which presumably he followed when performing himself. (After all, he wrote nearly all of his piano pieces for the purpose of personal performance, and so clearly they suit his own aesthetic intentions and exhibit his own strengths and inclinations.) As catalogued by Harold Schonberg, Mozart straddled and served as a transition between the rigid mechanics and florid ornamentation of his Baroque forebears and the expressive freedom and permissive inflection of the Romantic age that was to follow. While he insisted upon technical accuracy and precision, he had no tolerance for virtuosity unless it was to be applied with moderation and taste and placed at the service of the music. Yet, the result was not to be dry or mechanical, nor slavish adherence to the written score, as Mozart was known for liberally embellishing his own work during performances as a famed improviser. He sat at the center of the keyboard and maintained a calm demeanor without facial gestures. Tempos were to be strictly maintained, with no speed or slowing for emphasis or variation in repeated sections. All legato was to be in the right hand, and then temperate and regulated, so the notes “flowed like oil” without distending the basic pulse. Each extended note was to be held for its full value, without emphatic clipping. 

The fascinating question still remains, of how (or even if) Mozart would have structured and scored K. 466 (and much of his other work) had he lived a generation or two later – not in the classical era which he epitomized, but rather in the heart of the Romantic era which he anticipated and enabled in so many ways, and never as much as with his 20th piano concerto.”

Copyright Peter Gutmann, 2008

Mozart’s own fortepiano

  

A fortepiano after Walter, wonderfully crafted in our time! Visit the site of harpsichord maker Keith Hill, to see a Walter fortepiano similar to the one on which Mozart composed and played. 

Or click here for a sound sample of one of Keith Hill’s Walter fortepianos in a Mozart Piano Concerto, played by Robert Hill with orchestra.  

Then go wander through the Vienna of Mozart’s time… 

Images of Mozart’s Thematic Catalogue © The British Library, 

score © mezzocristina, images’ credits specified there where available,

other images from the internet, assumed to be in the public domain.

DISCLAIMER – I don’t claim credit or ownership on the images taken from the internet, assumed to be in the public domain, used here. The owners retain their copyrights to their works. I am sharing the images exclusively for educational and artistic purposes – this blog is not monetized, and has no commercial profit whatsoever. Whenever I find the credits to internet images I am happy to add them. If you are the artist or the owner of original photos/images presented on this blog and you wish your works to be removed from here, or edited to include the proper credits, please send me a message and they will either be removed or edited. Thank you!