Mozart in E-flat: Brief note on the program
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791):
Piano Quartet No. 2 in E-flat Major, K. 493 (1786):
Piano Concerto No. 9 in E-flat Major, K. 271 (“Jeunehomme/Jenamy”) (1777)
(string quintet arr. by Ignaz Lachner)
With Yena Lee, violin; Mozhu Yan, violin; Laura Krentzman, viola; Bree Ahern, cello; Nils Aardahl, double bass
The genius of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) is universally recognized; one can easily imagine that, at any given moment, someone somewhere in the world is probably listening to or playing his music. His works have withstood the test of time, retaining their beauty and power through the developments of musical instruments, cultural changes, and technological innovations. Today’s performance is our effort to get a little closer to how his music might have sounded during his lifetime. Paul McNulty’s fortepiano is a modern copy of a Viennese model by Anton Walter (1752-1826) from circa 1794. The low string tension, thin strings, wooden frame, leather-covered hammers, and lack of cross-stringing contribute to a vastly different range of timbres from our modern pianos. In Mozart’s time, the notated musical work also lacked the sacrosanct status that it has today, and performers often added embellishments and improvised cadenzas, giving the audience something new to look forward to in every performance.
The successful publications of several of Mozart’s concerti and string quartets in 1785 seem to have spurred him to write with the aim of publishing, rather than for public performance. The following years saw many new chamber music works, including two piano quartets, the second of which (K. 493) is dated to June 1786 in Vienna. The Piano Concerto in E-flat Major (K. 271) was written in Salzburg years earlier in January 1777, the month in which Mozart turned 21 years old. Both works exhibit passionate exuberance perfectly balanced with nobility, and the composer’s inventiveness and courage to challenge traditions is particularly seen in the concerto, with his early introduction of the soloist in the opening movement, and the insertion of a movement within a movement in the finale. In 2004, the Viennese musicologist Michael Lorenz revealed his discovery that the concerto was written for Victoire Jenamy (1749-1812), the eldest child of Jean Georges Noverre (1727-1810), a well-known dancer and choreographer, and a friend of Mozart’s. The nickname “Jeunehomme” was born of confusion in the biographical process. In 1778, Mozart wrote to his father regarding a concerto for “the [female] jenomy” [sic], a spelling that the biographer Otto Jahn maintained in 1856. In 1912, Théodor Wyzewa and Georges de Saint-Foix wrote of the pianist dedicatee as being “one of the most celebrated virtuosos of her time” (even though we have no evidence of Jenamy being a professional pianist). They assumed that Mozart had italianized a French name when writing “jenomy,” and they liked calling the composer “jeune homme” (young man); enter “Mademoiselle Jeunehomme.” Scholars thereafter accepted this as truth for ninety-two years, and the work is still commonly referred to as “the ‘Jeunehomme’ concerto” today. (Read more at http://members.aon.at/michaelorenz/jenamy/.)