Work of the week – Mozarts's Piano Concerto No. 23 K 488

By Konzerthaus Berlin Oct. 17, 2023


Tom Borrow © Michael Pavia

"An erudite and at the same time gallant chameleon" is what our programme writer Jürgen Otten calls Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, alluding to the "enormous diversity of colours and temperaments" that the composer was able to accommodate not only in one concerto, but even within a single movement. The Piano Concerto in A major, K. 488, which the young pianist Tom Borrow is playing this week with the Konzerthausorchester under the baton of Christoph Eschenbach, is a wonderful example of this. Noble and buoyant at the same time, it has thrilled audiences since its premiere.

Who played and heard it first? We don't know exactly, but it was probably the piano virtuoso Mozart who personally launched it in March 1786 and conducted it at the same time. For fans of numbers: according to the most common count, our "Work of the Week" is Mozart's 23rd piano concerto out of 27. Others count fewer and come up with 21 original concertos by the Viennese composer, for example. So if you like things to be clear, it's better to use the Köchel catalogue number 488, because another of his piano concertos is in A major, too, and it doesn't have a nickname, whether it was written by the composer himself or added later.

And where are the oboes? They have a little break between two Haydn symphonies and leave the section to the flute, two bassoons and two clarinets. Mozart also loved the warm, adaptable sound of the clarinet, which was just establishing itself among the woodwinds at the end of the 18th century. He wrote wonderful pieces for the new instrument such as his famous Clarinet Concerto or the Quintet for Clarinet and String Quartet. He also used the clarinet in three piano concertos - also in our work of the week, where it comes into its own in the Adagio, for example, singing wistfully, and in the final movement, jumping about exuberantly. In Haydn's London Symphony, which concludes the evening, not only the full woodwind section is present, but also horns, timpani and trumpets.


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