Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 18: A Thrilling “Interplay of Instruments”

Leopold Mozart visited his son in Vienna during the frigid winter of 1785. Over the course of ten weeks, the elder Mozart witnessed a superstar musician at the height of his popularity. In letters, he marveled at the extent to which his son was in demand at prominent venues across the city. Indeed, between 1782 and 1785, Mozart presented two or three new piano concertos each season, establishing “a harmonious connection between an eager composer-performer and a delighted audience, which was given the opportunity of witnessing the transformation and perfection of a major musical genre.” (Maynard Solomon) It was during this visit that Haydn made his famous declaration to Leopold, “Before God, and as an honest man, I tell you that your son is the greatest composer known to me in person or by name.”

In a letter to his daughter Nannerl, Leopold Mozart recounted a concert which took place on Sunday, February 13 in which Wolfgang played

a masterful concerto that he wrote for Paradis. I had the great pleasure of hearing all the interplay of the instruments so clearly that for sheer delight tears came to my eyes. When your brother left the stage, the emperor tipped his hat and called out ‘Bravo Mozart!’ and when he came on to play, there was a great deal of clapping.

The music described was probably the Piano Concerto No. 18 in B-flat Major, K. 456. Dated September 30, 1784, the work is thought to have been written for Maria Theresia von Paradis, an accomplished Austrian musician and composer who lost her sight at an early age.

From the opening bars of the first movement (Allegro vivace), we get a sense of the “interplay of instruments” that so moved Leopold Mozart. As with so much of Mozart’s instrumental music, these vibrant conversations between instruments suggest a vast, wordless opera. The personas of the voices are vivid. An insuppressible drama is unleashed. In the first movement, the piano’s sunny, ebullient lines dance around spirited fanfares that evoke a military march. The second movement (Andante un poco sostenuto) moves into shadowy G minor with a set of variations on a theme. Haunting and mysterious, this music is filled with wrenching harmonic surprises and intimations of the supernatural. Illuminated by the shimmering flute and pastoral serenity of the oboes and the bassoon, the sun emerges briefly with a turn to G major. The final movement (Allegro vivace) is a boisterous, frolicking rondo. Notice the way the piano’s virtuosic lines are echoed by the winds in an almost comic game of imitation (24:28). At one extraordinary moment, the prevailing, skipping 6/8 time is met, simultaneously, by a rhythmic countercurrent in 2/4 time (26:05).

Here is Mitsuko Uchida’s 1988 recording with Jeffrey Tate and the English Chamber Orchestra:

Recordings

Featured Image: Vienna Viewed from the Belvedere Palace (1760), Bernardo Bellotto

About Timothy Judd

A native of Upstate New York, Timothy Judd has been a member of the Richmond Symphony violin section since 2001. He is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music where he earned the degrees Bachelor of Music and Master of Music, studying with world renowned Ukrainian-American violinist Oleh Krysa.

The son of public school music educators, Timothy Judd began violin lessons at the age of four through Eastman’s Community Education Division. He was a student of Anastasia Jempelis, one of the earliest champions of the Suzuki method in the United States.

A passionate teacher, Mr. Judd has maintained a private violin studio in the Richmond area since 2002 and has been active coaching chamber music and numerous youth orchestra sectionals.

In his free time, Timothy Judd enjoys working out with Richmond’s popular SEAL Team Physical Training program.

4 thoughts on “Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 18: A Thrilling “Interplay of Instruments””

  1. In 2006 we took a tour entitled Mozart’s Musical Cities: Salzburg, Vienna, Prague. We attended concerts every evening for 10 nights. This experience stands out as one of my most endearing trips!

    Reply
    • What a wonderful experience you had! I’ve been to Europe several times over the past 45 years. But I have not heard that many concerts because we travelled in the summer months. I’m soon retiring from 40 plus years as a piano accompanist at two universities in Southern California, so I will be able to travel at any time of the year now. I’d love to hear about the company that provided the tour that you took.

      Reply
  2. This may interest you:

    The Verbier Festival is one of the most prestigious classical music events in the world. The quality of the participating artists as well as the originality of the programs have established the festival as a highlight of the music season. It takes place for two weeks in late July and early August in the mountain resort of Verbier, in Switzerland.

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