Luminosity. In astronomy, luminosity is the total amount of energy emitted by a star, galaxy, or other astronomical object per unit time. This star has been emitting a lot of energy for over 200 years, and this work comes close to the luminosity of our sun. In 1782, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart composed Piano Concerto No. 12 in A Major, KV. 414, and my recording of Edna Stern and the Orchstre d’Auvergne has brightened up many a day.
Here is what Mozart writes from Vienna to his father about the concertos 11, 12 and 13: “Generally speaking, I am so busy I don’t know what to do first […] I need to write two of the series [of three piano concertos] advertised in the subscription. These concertos are a happy medium between too heavy and too light. They are very brilliant, pleasing to the ear, and natural, without being insipid. There are parts here and there from which connoisseurs alone can derive satisfaction, but these passages are written in such a way that the less learned cannot fail to be pleased, albeit without knowing why.”
Melodies lingering in the air
Mozart wrote his Piano Concerto No. 12 in three movements: allegro, andante, rondo. The first movement has three themes and the composer uses a maximum of restraint: the orchestra is not to suffocate the piano. To the idea of luminosity I would like to add the one of zero gravity. It floats out of the orchestra and lingers in the air like a delicate perfume, beautiful to listen to. The second movement apparently honours Johann Sebastian Bach’s youngest son Johann Christian, by quoting four bars from Bach’s overture of the opera “La calamita dei cuori”. Bach died that year in London. The last movement makes ample use of gracious tremolos. Lovely!
For many years, musicologists thought that none of the original scores of the piano concertos 11, 12 and 13 published and sold in 1782 had survived. However, the US researcher Howard Chandler Robbins Landon explains in his work “Mozart: The Golden Years 1781-1791” that he discovered in 1959 in what at the time was Czechoslovakia unsigned copies, probably made by Johann Radnitzky under Mozart’s supervision.
While composing the piano concert, Mozart conceived an alternative version for a chamber orchestra. He certainly thought in marketing terms: Being pleasant to the ear made it attractive for any potential subscriber, but in the end no music amateur in Vienna would buy the score if he would have needed a full-fledged orchestra to perform in. It could also be performed by just a piano, two violins, a viol and a cello. Modular art! Born out of sheer financial necessity.
Mozart sold the set of three scores for 4 ducats and had to reassure his father in Salzburg, that he thought it not too expensive. Initially he had a price of 6 ducats per set in mind, but upon the insistence of his father he lowered the price. Unfortunately, the subscription was slow to start and Mozart was deprived of direly needed income to pay his debts in Vienna. A situation only too familiar to Mozart.
© Charles Thibo
Editor’s note: This piano concerto is my birthday indulgence and I wanted to share its luminosity with you to celebrate the day. In the light of yesterday’s terror attack in France, it seems all the more important not to succomb to fear. Have a bright day!