Piano Concerto No.17

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Piano Concerto No.17 in G major

K453

About this work

After Mozart settled in Vienna in 1781 he became for all intents and purposes (even if not wholly intentionally) a freelancer, almost entirely dependent on teaching and his skill as a keyboard player for his income. The G Major concerto is one of the few not originally composed for Mozart himself to play (although he would undoubtedly have used it subsequently); it was intended for one of his pupils, Barbara von Ployer, for whom he also wrote the Piano Concerto No.14 in E flat, K. 449, and who apparently paid him well. In a letter dated April 10, 1784, Mozart told his father Leopold that he had finished the concerto that day. Two days later it became one of the first works to be entered in his new thematic catalog. Barbara's father Gottfried Ignaz von Ployer, a Viennese agent of the Salzburg court, hired an orchestra for the first performance, which took place at his summer residence in the Viennese suburb of Döbling on June 13. In the audience was the Italian opera composer Paisiello, to whom Mozart wanted to show off his pupil. In addition to the concerto, Mozart and von Ployer also played the demanding Sonata for Two Pianos, K. 448.

The orchestral accompaniment is scored for flute, strings, and pairs of oboes, bassoons, and horns, and the concerto is cast in the usual three movements, with an opening Allegro followed by an Andante and an Allegretto. The last movement with its bourée-like theme has become noted for a charming incident in which Mozart taught the melody to his pet starling, although it apparently persisted in always getting one note wrong.

The G Major concerto was one of the few Mozart piano concertos published during his lifetime -- by Bössler of Speyer. The event that produced a rare contemporary review of his music. While praising the elegance of the Andante and "exceptionally beautiful modulations" of the Allegretto, the writer also noted the difficulties of that movement. The caveat presaged the decline of Mozart's popularity among his Viennese public, which increasingly found his music too dense and difficult to understand. Indeed its structure has provided theorists with two centuries' worth of problems to chew on, containing as it does elements of sonata, rondo, and variation forms. The opening movement is dense with sheer melody, introducing half a dozen tunes before the piano even makes its entrance and giving each its part to play in the ensuing dialogue.

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