His First Masterpiece: Piano Concerto No. 9 in E Flat Major, K. 271

>> Sunday, September 6, 2009


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart composed this concerto in Salzburg, 1777. Though only 21 years old, he displayed great maturity and originality in what is regarded by many as his first great masterpiece. Renowned pianist Alfred Brendel has referred to Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 9, known as the Jeunehomme, as a "wonder of the world," going so far as to assert that Mozart "did not surpass this piece in the later piano concertos."

Countless beloved pieces of so-called classical music have a nickname, often one not given by the composer. Mozart would have no idea what the "Jupiter" Symphony is, Beethoven the "Emperor" Concerto or "Moonlight" Sonata, or Schubert the "Unfinished" Symphony. The names sometimes come from savvy publishers who know they can improve sales, or from impresarios, critics, or performers. The case of the Concerto we hear today is particularly interesting, and only recently explained. Little is known of the genesis or first performance of the E-flat Concerto. Twentieth-century accounts usually stated that Mozart composed it for a French keyboard virtuoso named Mademoiselle Jeunehomme, who visited Salzburg in the winter of 1777. Nothing else was known, not even the woman's first name.

In 2006, the Viennese musicologist Michael Lorenz, a specialist in the music of Mozart's and Schubert's time and a brilliant archival detective, figured out the mystery. The nickname was coined by the French scholars Théodore de Wyzewa and Georges de Saint-Foix in their classic early-20th-century study of the composer. As Lorenz explains, "Since one of their favorite names for Mozart was 'jeune homme' (young man), they presented this person as 'Mademoiselle Jeunehomme.'"

In a September 1778 letter Mozart wrote to his father, he referred to three recent concertos, "one for the jenomy [K. 271], litzau [K. 246], and one in B-flat [K. 238]" that he was selling to a publisher. Leopold later called the first pianist "Madame genomai." (Spellings were often variable and phonetic at the time.) Lorenz has identified her as Victoire Jenamy, born in Strasbourg in 1749 and married to a rich merchant, Joseph Jenamy, in 1768. Victoire was the daughter of the celebrated dancer and choreographer Jean Georges Noverre (1727-1810), who was a good friend of Mozart's. He had choreographed a 1772 Milan production of Mozart's opera Lucio Silla and later commissioned the ballet Les Petits Riens for Paris. Although we still know little about Victoire Jenamy—she does not appear to have been a professional musician, though clearly Mozart admired her playing—Mozart's first great piano concerto can now rightly be called by its proper name: "Jenamy."


Mitsuko Uchida plays piano and Jeffrey Tate conducts the Mozarteum Orchestra in Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 9 "Jeunehomme", in E flat major, K. 271.
A Salzburg Festival performance, recorded in the Mozarteum, Salzburg, 1989








2 comments:

Kathy Handyside September 6, 2009 at 2:03 PM  

Ahh - another of my absolute favorites! My favorite part of this whole concerto is at the beginning, when the piano jumps immediately in and answers the orchestra. I don't think any other of Mozart's piano concertos does that. It's such a neat touch! Sort of like the piano saying to the orchestra, "Oh yeah? Well, I'll show you who's the main character here!" haha

Kathy Handyside September 6, 2009 at 2:04 PM  

Instead of the piano just sitting silent throughout a long introduction, I mean.

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