About this work
Mozart's final piano concerto was entered into his thematic catalog on January 5, 1791, the year of his death. However, it appears that, like its immediate predesessor (No. 26 in D, "Coronation"), the concerto was started some time earlier, possibly in 1788. Mozart himself gave the first performance two months after the concerto's completion at a benefit concert for the clarintetist Josef Bähr, whom Mozart met in Paris. The concert took place in the great room situated above an inn owned by one Ignaz Jahn, close to where Mozart was living in the Himmelpfortgasse, and also featured arias sung by Aloysia Lange (Weber), Mozart's sister-in-law and first love. The "grand musical concert" (Wiener Zeitung, March 12, 1791), proved to be Mozart's final appearance on the concert platform. The report went to record that "everyone admired his art, in composition as well as in performance," an ironic statement from the press of a city that by this time had long tired of Mozart as a performer. Only a few weeks later the concerto was played by the Czech pianist Jan Witásek at a concert given by Mozart's soprano friend Josepha Duschek in his beloved Prague.
The concerto bears scant relationship to the bold, powerful works of 1784 to 1786, the golden years of the composer's career as a concert pianist. Scored with an orchestral accompaniment consisting of flute, two oboes, two bassoons, two horns, and strings, the concerto inhabits a world of glowing, muted colors. Its mood is frequently described as autumnal or valedictory. That impression may be slanted by hindsight, but such impressions are enhanced by Mozart's choice of theme for the rondo finale: he uses the melody of a little song called "Sehnsucht nach dem Frühling" (Longing for Spring), one of three he had composed for a children's songbook, and which was entered into his catalog immediately after the concerto. (It was catalogued later as K. 596.) The opening Allegro and middle Larghetto are likewise restrained, with a sinuous weaving of the solo part into the texture rather than the virtuosic frills of the preceding D major concerto. Although it has little of the harmonic boldness found in some of Mozart's other late works, the concerto seems to look forward to Romantic lyricism in the way it finds beauty in melancholy. In certain passages the meditative breadth of Beethoven's Concerto No. 4 in G seems not far away.
Curated by Katharina Böhler, Musicologist