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Music In The Seventeenth And Eighteenth Centuries


CHAPTER 11 The Composer’s Voice
Richard Taruskin

The works in which that peak was scaled were the piano concertos Mozart wrote for himself to perform during his last decade, when he was living in Vienna and trying to support himself—like increasing numbers of musicians at a time of radical transition in the economy of European music-making—as a freelance artist. The conditions that had so favored Haydn’s development and nurtured his gifts were drying up. Julia Moore, the outstanding economic historian of musical Vienna, has summarized the catastrophic institutional and commercial changes that were taking place, to which Mozart, like countless lesser contemporaries, had to adapt as best he could. Until the middle of the 1770s, she records, court musical establishments or Kapellen were maintained not only by emperors and kings but also by princes, counts, and men without important titles. But between 1780 and 1795, most of the Kapellen in the Habsburg Empire were disbanded, except those at a few important courts, causing widespread unemployment among musicians and a huge surge in freelance activities.

Haydn himself experienced this change in 1790, when his chief patron died and he was put out to pasture. But he had already made his fortune, enjoyed a pension, and was soon visited in any case by a crowning stroke of good fortune when Salomon brought him to London as a celebrity freelancer and guaranteed his earnings. After his return to Vienna, he was a world luminary and was showered with “windfall patronage,” aristocrats and wealthy merchants vying with one another to secure his prestigious and lavishly remunerated presence in their homes for an evening. At his death, Haydn left a net estate of over ten thousand florins, literally hundreds of times the median estate of a composer in late eighteenth-century Vienna, placing him solidly in the ranks of the upper middle class, otherwise populated by industrialists.

Mozart had traveled the length and breadth of Europe during the late 1770s in fruitless search of a Kapelle to direct. Once in Vienna, far from a world celebrity (except insofar as he was remembered from his childhood as a sort of freak), he had to rely on windfall patronage alone for his livelihood, which put him at the mercy of a notoriously fickle public.13 His appearances as virtuoso at “academies” (concerts he put on himself, for which he sold subscriptions) and aristocratic soirées were his primary source of income, and his vehicles at these occasions were his piano concertos. And so during his Vienna years he composed on average about two a year, from the Concerto in F major (K. 413), now known as no. 11, composed in the winter of 1782–83, to the Concerto in B♭ major (K. 595), now known as no. 27, completed on 5 January 1791, shortly before his last birthday. These seventeen concertos, created over a period of less than nine years, were arguably Mozart’s most important and characteristic instrumental compositions.

Yet they were not evenly spread out over the time in question. In fact, a chronology of Mozart’s concertos turns into an index of his fortunes in the musical marketplace. At first, as a novel presence in Vienna, he was very fashionable and sought-after. Between 1782 and 1786 he was allowed to rent the court theater every year for a gala concert; he gave frequent well-attended subscription academies; and he received frequent invitations to perform at aristocratic salons. He lived high during this period, in a luxury apartment, and had many “status” possessions including a horse and carriage.

At the pinnacle of his early success he proudly sent his father a list of his concert engagements during the Lenten season of 1784. Lent, when theaters were closed by law, was always the busiest time of year for concerts, and Mozart had twenty-one engagements over the five weeks between late February and early April. Most were aristocratic soirées, including five appearances at the residence of Prince Dmitriy Mikhailovich Galitzin (or Golitsyn), the Russian ambassador, and no fewer then nine (twice a week, on Mondays and Fridays) at the home of Count Johann (or János Nepomuk) Esterházy, a member of a lesser branch of the family that so famously patronized Haydn. Three were subscription concerts at the Trattnerhof Theater, and one, on the first of April, was an especially lucrative engagement at the court theater, where ticket prices could be set very high, and where Mozart could expect to net upwards of fifteen hundred florins.

All of these occasions undoubtedly included concerto performances, and so it is no wonder that Mozart completed no fewer than six concertos during the golden year of 1784, with three following in 1785 and another three in 1786. As Moore notes, however, the fact that Mozart never again secured the use of a court theater “indicates that he had become overexposed to the Viennese musical public by 1787.”14 His fortunes declined precipitously. By 1789 he could no longer subscribe academies to the point where they were profitable. “I circulated a subscription list for fourteen days,” he complained in a letter to a friend, “and the only name on it is Swieten!”15 He had to move to a smaller apartment, lost his status possessions, and, as all the world knows, went heavily into debt, so that at the time of his death his widow inherited liabilities totaling over a thousand florins (offset somewhat by the value of his clothing, a remnant from the fat years). The same ruinous decline is also reflected in his concerto output, with only two completed between the end of the year 1786 and his death five years later.

While it is no more realistic an endeavor to select a single “representative” Mozart concerto than it would be to select a single representative Haydn symphony, a combination of factors suggests the Concerto in G, K. 453, now known as no. 17, as a plausible candidate for the role. It was completed on 12 April 1784, immediately after the fabulous Lenten season described above, during Mozart’s most productive concerto year. It was ostensibly written not for Mozart himself to perform but for Barbara Ployer, a Salzburg pianist who had been his pupil, and who was the daughter of a wealthy Salzburg official, who commissioned it; and so it has an unusually complete and painstaking score. Probably for the same reason it is not one of Mozart’s most difficult concertos to perform; but as we shall see, the notated score of a Mozart concerto is by no means a reliable guide to its realization in performance. When Mozart himself played it, which he did often beginning in 1785, he surely embellished the rather modest solo part.

Like practically all solo concertos, still reflecting the century-old Vivaldian legacy, the work is cast in three movements, of which the first is in the “symphonicized” or “sonatafied” ritornello form described above. The two “expositions” are related according to a plan that was by 1784 habitual with Mozart. Comparing them from the moment of the piano’s first solo entry, which takes the form of a little Eingang or “intro” preceding the first theme, it appears that the soloist takes over all the early thematic material the second time around—or rather, the piano replaces the strings in dialogue with the wind instruments. When the crucial modulation to the dominant finally takes place, the piano gets to announce the new key with an unaccompanied solo that contains a theme that was not part of the opening ritornello. It will remain the pianist’s property to the end. The second theme from the opening orchestral ritornello, characteristically Mozartean in its operatic lyricism, eventually arrives in the dominant, with the pianist again replacing the strings in dialogue with the winds. The orchestral tutti that follows (and confirms) the piano’s cadential trill at the end of the second exposition corresponds in function to the second ritornello in older concertos.

The moment corresponding to the final cadence of the ritornello is replaced by a “deceptive” move to a B♭ major harmony that in the local context sounds like the flat submediant. (In terms of the once and future tonic, it is of course the mediant of the parallel minor.) This chromatic intrusion launches a long modulatory section that reaches a surprising FOP on the diatonic mediant (B natural) with a borrowed major third, turning it into the “V of vi.” A passage like this fulfills the structural function of a development section, finally enabling a satisfying resolution of tension in a “double return,” with the tension stretched out just a mite by a typical feint in the solo part: an Eingang (m. 224) that leads not to the by now urgently expected first theme in the tonic, but to a teasingly reiterated dominant seventh.

A sneaky little extra Eingang for the violins finally reintroduces the first theme, and we get a slightly truncated “compromise” or integrated version of the exposition, which might be likened to a sonata recapitulation in that it stays in the tonic, but which actually owes a greater historical debt to the older precedent of the da capo aria. This final major section of the movement has all the thematic material from the modulating exposition, including the pianist’s unaccompanied theme, and culminates in the solo cadenza. All of these details are summarized in Table 11-1.

The cadenza, another direct inheritance from the da capo aria, was literally an embellishment of the soloist’s final cadence, or trill, preceding the last ritornello. At the hands of successive generations of virtuosi it kept on growing until Koch (writing in 1793) had forgotten the etymological link that defined the cadenza’s initially rather modest cadential function. Calling the traditional term a misnomer, he defined the cadenza instead as being in reality “either a free fantasy or a capriccio”—that is, a fairly lengthy piece-within-a-piece to be improvised by the soloist on the spot.16 According

11-1 Mozart, Concerto no. 17 in G, K. 453, Movement I (Allegro)

1.TUTTI (“1st exposition”)



1st theme (I)


bridge (I)


2nd theme (I)


chromatic excursion


closing th. (I)


cadential flourish

2. SOLO (“2nd exposition”)



Eingang for piano


1st theme (I)


bridge (I–V)


“piano theme” (V)




2nd theme (V)




closing theme (V)


cadential flourish, interrupted by:

3. CENTRAL PASSAGE WORK (cf. development)



modulation to FOP


retransition (to V), using a motive derived from the “piano theme” (compare mm. 112, 120), leading to:

4. INTEGRATED SOLO (cf. recapitulation)



Eingang for vlns.


1st theme (I)


bridge (I)


“piano theme” (I)




2nd theme (I)


passagework, leading to I6/4 to introduce




closing theme (I)


cadential flourish (I!)

to the terms by which Koch designated it, the cadenza in his day was a piece in which the usual forms and rules of composition were in abeyance (as suggested by capriccio, “caprice”) and in which the soloist could concentrate entirely on pursuing an untrammeled train of idiosyncratic musical thought (fantasia, “vagary”), as we may remember from the empfindsamer Stil compositions of C. P. E. Bach, the genre’s pioneer (see Ex. 8-4).


(13) Julia Moore, “Mozart in the Market-Place,” Journal of the Royal Musical Association CXIV (1989): 22.

(14) Moore, “Mozart in the Market-Place,” p. 23.

(15) Mozart to Michael Puchberg, 12–14 July 1789; Mozart’s Letters, p. 242.

(16) H. C. Koch, Versuch einer Anleitung zur Composition, Vol. III (Leipzig, 1793), p. 339; quoted in Stevens, “An Eighteenth-Century Description,” p. 91.

Citation (MLA):
Richard Taruskin. "Chapter 11 The Composer’s Voice." The Oxford History of Western Music. Oxford University Press. New York, USA. n.d. Web. 20 Nov. 2019. <https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume2/actrade-9780195384826-div1-11004.xml>.
Citation (APA):
Taruskin, R. (n.d.). Chapter 11 The Composer’s Voice. In Oxford University Press, Music In The Seventeenth And Eighteenth Centuries. New York, USA. Retrieved 20 Nov. 2019, from https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume2/actrade-9780195384826-div1-11004.xml
Citation (Chicago):
Richard Taruskin. "Chapter 11 The Composer’s Voice." In Music In The Seventeenth And Eighteenth Centuries, Oxford University Press. (New York, USA, n.d.). Retrieved 20 Nov. 2019, from https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume2/actrade-9780195384826-div1-11004.xml