Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Piano Concerto No. 21

Explained using the 5-4-3-2-1 Method

Duration: 25–30 Minutes
Genre: Solo Concerto
Time of Creation: 1785
World Premiere: Unknown

Table of Contents

Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 21 in 5 Sentences

Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 belongs to Mozart’s so-called “symphonic piano concertos”: In his late piano concertos, Mozart developed a style in which the role of the orchestra became increasingly important, with the solo piano “accompanying” the orchestra for long stretches (rather than vice versa). One can see in this a foundation for the solo concertos of later composers in the Romantic period (an example would be Brahms’ Violin Concerto). But even beyond the relationship between piano and orchestra, there are some features in Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 that gave the genre a developmental boost (see the “Highlights” below). The orchestration is likely inspired by Joseph Haydn.

Note: This work belongs to the Classical Music Top 100.

4 Highlights from Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 21

Highlight 1: Three versions of the main theme

Mozart is, after all, known for his inexhaustible creativity. He gives us a taste of this at the very beginning of his Piano Concerto No. 21 by “illuminating” the same march-like theme three different times: The first presentation involves only a few instruments, the second the entire orchestra, and the third is marked by imitations. The three presentations are interrupted only by the famous “Heidi” theme (in video 01:17 – little joke):

Highlight 2: Solo Piano – "Sneaking In" and Bringing Something New

Two things are remarkable about the solo piano’s first entry: first, it is felt to be “too late” (not after the pompous conclusion of the orchestral introduction by the brass, but a bit later); second, the piano picks up the orchestra’s main theme only fleetingly. Instead, it brings in a new theme (in video 03:55), and one that may sound familiar…well?…:-)…That’s right, it strongly recalls the famous opening of Mozart’s Symphony No. 40:

Highlight 3: Famous melody at the beginning of the 2nd movement

The 2nd movement begins with that melody which became very famous as film music (see below at the “Questions and Answers”). It is also a good example of how cantabile most of the middle movements in Mozart’s late piano concertos are:

Highlight 4: Last movement – form pairing

Having already done some unusual things in the first movement (see “Highlight 1”), Mozart continues this in the last movement: this time, it’s all about form. In Mozart’s day, final movements liked to use one of two forms: a rondo or a sonata movement. While in a rondo a constant part and always new parts alternate (form scheme A-B-A-C-A…), in a sonata movement the focus is on the creative (and quite free) processing of musical themes. The final movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21, however, is neither – instead, Mozart “pairs” the two forms:

3 Questions and Answers about Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 21

Question 1: What is the nickname of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 21?

Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 is sometimes presented with the epithet “Elvira Madigan.” This is because the theme of the second movement was used as a film score in the movie of the same name. However, the designation is anachronistic: the film dates from the 20th century and the real Elvira Madigan lived a good 80 years after Mozart.

Question 2: For whom did Mozart compose his piano concertos?

Mozart composed his piano concertos mostly for his own use. This is especially true for his late piano concertos, because during his time in Vienna Mozart was active as a composer, pianist and teacher.

Question 3: How many piano concertos did Mozart write?

Mozart wrote 27 piano concertos.

2 Recommended Recordings of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 21

Recording 1: Fazil Say, hr-Sinfonieorchester, Peter Oundjian (live, 2017)

I hold Fazil Say in infinite esteem, both as a pianist and as a person. His Mozart interpretations are so sparkling and so much thought of language that it is simply a pleasure to listen to him:

Recording 2: Ronald Brautigam, Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, Edo de Waart (live, 2019)

Ronald Brautigam is known for his soft Mozart sound, which he realizes again here together with the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra and conductor Edo de Waart:

1 Quote about Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 21

It feels like going into a church for prayer.

Pianist Jan Lisiecki on the second movement of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 21 in conversation with BR-Klassik

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