The K. 414 Piano Concerto (Vienna, 1782, age 26) that opens this program, and the much earlier K. 201 Symphony (Salzburg, 1774, age 18) share the same tonic key of A Major. Otherwise, the two pieces seem to me to reflect totally different sides of Mozart’s genius. For both these reasons, their pairing on this program seemed an ideal way to consider some of the aspects of Mozart’s early process and progress as a composer. In the Piano Concerto, I believe the composer sought to embrace the characteristic style of his time, though with his own unique sense of elegance and perfection. He needed to win over an audience in Vienna that hardly knew any of his music but was familiar with the works of many of his contemporaries. We do not know what may have inspired the Symphony, but the sense of innovation that permeates all four movements suggests Mozart was consciously exploring new ground.
The Piano Concerto is full of charm, grace, and elegance throughout its three movements. As if to emphasize these light-hearted qualities, Mozart indicated that the wind parts (2 oboes, 2 horns, typical for the time) are “ad libitum” – that is, the piece may be played as chamber music, with the piano joined just by four strings, or possibly just string orchestra.
In contrast, the eight-years-earlier Symphony is one of a handful of miraculous works by the teen-age Mozart that seem to have burst forth “out of the blue,” as full-blown masterpieces. It is suddenly more mature, more vital, more experimental than almost any work that preceded it. For this reason it continues to occupy a place in the repertoire of most major symphony orchestras. Perhaps not surprisingly, the wind parts are not just integral to this clearly symphonic piece; they are essential to it. – James Freeman