Friday, February 05, 2016

Mozart's works don't always end happily; when did the "Picardy Major" conclusion of a cyclic work take hold?

I thought I would “open the short month” with some notes about how earlier use of minor keys for cyclical works.  I’m a little inspired to take this up since pianist Jonathan Biss has been blogging a lot about Mozart and Beethoven recently on Facebook.

Mozart’s first piano concerto in a minor key would be the D Minor, #20, K. 466. I did “read” this work while taking piano, in eleventh grade as I recall.  The second movement, the Romanza, is “pre-romantic”, and the finale is noteworthy for going to a “happy ending” in the parallel (or Picardy) D Major.  There is a tempestuous cadenza before this coda, which remains rather martial, without the “big tune” to come from romantics.

But then Piano Concerto #24 in C Minor, K. 491, is a strange beast indeed.  The first movement breaks from convention in the way the piano enters the exposition, and in the “double conclusion” of the Exposition section.  The most common cadenza is the one by Brahms, with a palette that reminds me of Brahms’s own early sonatas. The movement ends in a hush.

The slow movement is the lovely Larghetto in the parallel E-flat, but the Finale is an “Allegretto”, a theme and eight variations in C Minor, that says in minor for a brief fortissimo conclusion.
I think I have an ASV of these two works, but I’ll recommend Arthur Rubenstein with Wallenstein and the RCA Symphony, from the late 1950s, when RCA Victor Red Seal records were in vogue.

A good stylistic comparison can be made with the “Fantasia and Sonata in C Minor” K. 475/457 (The Sonata is #14) which should be appreciated as one work.  The Fantasy ends with a proclamation of the C Minor scale itself.  The Sonata immediately delves into the extra chromatic opportunities that C Minor seems to offer (think about the Bruckner Eighth).  As with the Concerto 24, the slow movement is a “song without words” in the relative major, but here the finale conveys an extra sense of tragedy, opening with a fugato-like theme, and then an uncompromising reprise in the treble.  The transition to the second subject is unusually abrupt.  The ending stays in stern minor.
For performance, try Alicia de Larrocha.
So how did all this influence Beethoven, when he composed his Piano Concerto #3 in C Minor, Op. 37.  The work is long for the period, almost 40 minutes, and the first movement is very expansive with a complete ritornel.  The piano part has some delicious passage work near the end of the exposition, and in the development that always caught my ear, particularly about the time I was a junior in high school.  The slow movement, almost parked in time, is in the remote median key of E Major (that would be the case later for Rachmaninoff’s Second Concerto).  The Rondo starts with a theme “justified” by the enharmonic relationship between G# (from E Major) and Ab, back to C Minor.  The movement has a big cadenza before a happy ending in a major key, but to my ear, at least, the joy sounds superficial compared to what was to come from Beethoven’s Fifth and Ninth Symphonies.  Even Leonard Bersntein doesn’t get a lot more out of it, in this performance with Kyrstian Zimerman (the wedding ring shows).

So my last little exercise here concerns Haydn’s Symphony #95 in C Minor.  Does this work anticipate the Beethoven Fifth? The first movement alone ends in a triumphant C Major, and the finale (as with the Beethoven 5) is entirely in C Major.  The slow movement, in relative E-flat, ends loudly, which Haydn sometimes does.   Here’s a performance (on London) with the Philharmonia Hungarica and Dorati.

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