Mozart the Virtuoso of the Piano

Mozart’s virtuosity was often and best expressed at the insturment he is most closely associated with–the piano. His series of piano concertos, Nos. 20-24, rank among the greatest music ever written. 

First up is the Andante of the 21st, which is one of Mozart’s most famous tunes, popping up in movies with stunning regularity.

W.A. Mozart, Piano Concerto No. 21 in C Major

Next up is the 23rd. This was, if you can believe it, Stalin’s favorite piece of music, famously ordering it to be played on the day he seized power.

W.A. Mozart, Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major:

My favorite, however, is the 20th in D Minor. D Minor is without question Mozart’s favorite key–Don Giovanni and the Requiem are also centered around they key of D Minor. It’s also perhaps my favorite key—a shocking percentage of my selections in this blog have been in D Minor, far more than would be statistically probable.

Here, in the 20th, we can hear a preview of Don Giovanni being dragged to hell at the end of the opera. The music is dark, brooding and proto-romantic. This is the Mozart I love most, trying to break free of convention and let the music in his head truly take flight. In fact, the 20th is yet another example of how Mozart delayed putting music down on paper. His father noted in a letter that the copyist was frantically trying to finish even as the concert began, with Mozart, as was his custom, conducting from the piano. Perhaps his delay in transcribing the work did not allow him sufficient time for editing.

Although my usual preference is for historically informed performances, there are exceptions to all rules and this is one for me. The great Argentine pianist Martha Argerich ignores all sense of history here, bringing her singular romantic focus to Mozart. It works brilliantly. Before turning to the music, a few words about Argerich. I’ve seen her about half a dozen times live and have booked tickets for her concerts far more often than that. She is notorious for cancelling: Only opera divas have a greater cancellation rate. Argerich’s career is legendary. Arguably (and in my view) the greatest living pianist, Argerich burst onto the scene in spectacular fashion when, at I believe 23 years of age, she went into Abbey Road Studios (yes, that Abbey Road Studios) and laid down Chopin tracks that, if translated into heat, would have started the second great fire of London. More on that later. Here she is doing Mozart, as if he were Lizst or Chopin. Bring the heat!

W.A Mozart, Piano Concerto No. 20 in D Minor:

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