Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was a master entertainer. He was the best at pleasing the cultural elite of Vienna. And he was the first composer with a thoroughly entrepreneurial attitude towards his own compositions. There was a product to be sold – his music. And then there was the promotion of the product – the publicity, the networking, the harassment of publishers, agents, patrons and officials to obtain a commitment for the publication of a score, for the renting of a concert hall, for a commission from the Habsburg Court, the Catholic Church or whoever would be willing to pay for a piece of brilliant music.
Obsessed by the desire to please
Mozart was obsessed by his desire to please. His difficult childhood as a child prodigy, his failure to create true emotional bonds with anyone in his youth might partly explain this. He was also obsessed by melodies. Mozart’s personality is full of contradictions, but these two obsessions are characteristic of the composer’s activity once he had settled down in Vienna. They presuppose each other. Mozart had a fine grasp of how to reach the hearts of his audience with perfectly balanced, colourful and pleasing melodies. His biographer Eva Gesine Bauer remarks that “he knew, that [a melody’s] effect is supreme if [the melody] it surprises the audience like the voice from another world”. She compares Mozart to a messenger shuttling between heaven, his realm, and earth, that is the audience.
Each week a new piece
Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 14 in E flat (K. 449) is a perfect example for his ambition to convince Vienna’s concertgoers. Whenever I listen to that recording by Maria Joao Pires and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra under Claudio Abbado, it lifts me up to heaven just as the composer had intended. It saw the light in 1784 when Mozart produced pieces at a weekly rhythm. Demand was strong and he had to deliver rapidly and regularly to remain popular. His audience would hear a new concert each week and remember over time a unique series of brilliant and subtle musical works.
Tremolos and a swinging finale
K. 449 was composed by Mozart for one of his pupils, Barbara (Babette) Ployer, daughter of a counsellor of the Austrian-Hungarian Emperor. Three movements, that demand a considerable virtuosity of the soloist, with some characteristic elements like a tremolo figure, a theme that points towards a later trio of Mozart’s opera “Le nozze di Figaro” and a Baroque piano part in the last movement. And Mozart would belie his desire to please if, after two movements written in an uncompromising language, he would not like to show of in the last movement with the piano transforming the orchestra’s theme into a swinging 6/8 cadenza.
© Charles Thibo