PIANO CONCERTO #16 IN D MAJOR, K. 451
WALTER KLIEN, PIANO
PAUL ANGERER, CONDUCTOR
Pure happiness and grace…
Although it is somewhat ridiculous to proclaim any of the Mozart concertos to be one’s absolute favorite—since every single one of them can be likened to a different gemstone, the one that you love the most tends to be the one you are currently listening to—K. 451, if I had to live with just one forever, would probably be the one for me.
I remember hearing it for the first time, sitting on an ancient, mildewy fold-out sofa-bed in the basement in the summer of 1979, while studying for my doctoral oral exams. I was trying to cram a lifetime’s acquaintance with hundreds of works into my mind in just a few months. Although such an exercise is, at best, surface-skimming, the rewards—for one’s future—are immediate: THIS is a work I will keep coming back to the rest of my life, THIS one is not, etc. Well, I was so blown away by this concerto that I had to stop and listen to it several times in a row right then and there. How, I wondered then and still wonder, could HAPPINESS and GRACE—visceral, exuberant happiness and such serene grace—be expressed so perfectly in music?
As I mentioned a few posts ago, this concerto, along with K. 450 in B-flat, were two concertos that Mozart composed in his first weeks of residence in the Trattnerhof building in central Vienna. In addition to residential apartments, the building had a chapel, which seated a couple hundred people. Its use as a functioning chapel had been abandoned and it had been converted into a performance venue. Mozart rented the space for the first full two months of his residency in the building (which only lasted nine months in total). He kept his piano in the hall/chapel instead of in his apartment, composing there. The availability of the hall for his private use may have been why he moved into the building in the first place.
Mozart was just 27 years old in January 1784 when he moved into the Trattnerhof building, still a young man in fine health. He and his wife Constanze had been married for 18 months, and as yet had no children (they would have six, only two of which would survive infancy–the average child mortality rate in those days; Mozart himself was one of two surviving children, out of seven).
Mozart had been successfully carving out a reputation for himself in Vienna since he moved there three years ago. Concerto performances had become a primary means of attracting public attention. With each concerto he wrote, it became more and more important to him to impress whoever was hearing him. In those days—and for another half century—composers were the main performers of their works. Self-promotion was vital to the existence of every composer. Presenting himself—his compositional and performing abilities—in the best light was his goal with the Trattnerhof concerts.
K. 450 and 451 required more technical ability of the pianist than any of Mozart’s previous concertos, and were sure to impress. It is hard to imagine these concerts as being anything but resounding successes. Mozart really poured himself into these two concertos. They are a joy both to hear and to perform.
Walter Klien (1928-1991) was an Austrian pianist whose interpretations of Mozart, Schubert and Brahms were highly regarded among both European and American audiences. Before he made his debut in the U.S. in 1969, he had been a prizewinner in the Busoni and Marguerite Long piano competitions. He had also received the coveted Bosendorfer Prize in Vienna. In addition to being a master of all the German solo repertoire, Klien performed in a duo with his wife Beatriz, as well as with pianist and good friend Alfred Brendel.
The Volksoper Wien—the Vienna People’s Opera—is a major opera house in Vienna, which presents an amazing 300 performances to several hundred thousand spectators every year! The Wiener Volksoperorchester is the “pit” orchestra for the opera house. Like the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, it is comprised of Vienna’s finest players.
It was this very recording—Klien and the Volksooperorchester—through which I became acquainted with K. 451. But it is not (only) for sentimental reasons that I am linking to it here. Even though there are other fine versions available on YouTube, for me this is still the best. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, tempo choices often become critically important in the presentation of a work. That is especially true, I feel, in this concerto. Klien’s tempi are, for me, just right. And his crystalline fingerwork is so impressive.
Pictures are Tom Hulce portraying Mozart in “Amadeus”, and Walter Klien