“When you realize how quickly Mozart developed during the early years of the 1780’s it makes you ask: why did this happen? What was going on? It’s about the momentum of his creativity at this time” says Leif Ove Andsnes
In 1781, aged 25, Mozart made the bold move of going freelance, “Vienna is piano land!” he exclaimed in a letter to his father, Leopold, in an attempt to argue his case for resigning from the employment of the Archbishop of Salzburg. With both public and private concerts taking place on a daily basis, Vienna was the place to be for an ambitious young composer and performer, and Mozart was quick to realize the opportunities on offer. Within a couple of years he had established himself as one of the most famous musicians in Vienna but by 1785 he had competition on his doorstep. As more and more talented composers and musicians arrived in the city, freelancers like Mozart had to become ever more inventive to distinguish themselves and win over the public’s affection. It was in these two years - 1785 and 1786 - that Mozart’s musical imagination flourished like never before.
Mozart wrote a series of masterpieces and revolutionized the nature of the piano concerto. The five piano concertos, no.20-24, are game-changers in the history of the form. Mozart began to re-examine the roles of the soloist and orchestra and created a dialogue between the two entities in a way that had not been heard before. “It changes completely with Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 20 [in D minor K466],” says Andsnes. “He separates the soloist more from the orchestra. The first entrance of the soloist in this piece is very different music from what you have heard the orchestra present. This is the moment, which points to the future and the development of the piano concerto and of the beginning of the Romantic piano concerto, which is so beloved. Everything from Tchaikovsky, Grieg and Rachmaninov, where the soloist has a sort of “heroic” role. It starts here with Mozart.”
In the four works that followed, Mozart tested concerto form to its limits and made extreme emotional demands on his Viennese subscribers. “There was new creative energy in the air,” says Andsnes; “Mozart seems to have gone deeper and deeper into the idiom and its possibilities and tried new techniques. I don’t know any music that offer such emotional diversity.”
Mozart Momentum 1785 is the first of two releases exploring those especially remarkable years. It includes piano concertos Nos 20-22, the Piano Quartet in G minor, Masonic Funeral Music and Fantasia in C minor for solo piano.
“The idea of this project was to explore the diversity of what was going on in Mozart’s creative life at the time – to show that a separation between solo playing, chamber music playing and concerto playing isn’t really relevant,” says Andsnes. “You find that some piano parts in the chamber music are more virtuosic than those in the concertos. It all goes hand in hand.”
Leif Ove Andsnes will embark on this new chapter with a trusted partner: The Mahler Chamber Orchestra. Their previous concerto project – the five piano concertos by Beethoven – produced recordings that won BBC Music Magazine’s Disc of the Year, were nominated for Gramophone Awards and hailed as new benchmarks. “There’s so much more to this partnership than just exceptional playing; there’s a palpable sense of discovery, of living the music”, says Gramophone Magazine. The Guardian raved “You’d be hard-put to find a pianist and orchestra better matched.”