Program Notes: Beethoven & Mozart Piano Concertos

Pianist Inon Barnatan returns to the Benaroya Hall stage to play and conduct Beethoven's Second Piano Concerto and also Mozart’s “Jeunehomme” Piano Concerto on the Benaroya Hall stage, broadcasting live on Thursday, May 20, 2021, at 7:30pm on Seattle Symphony Live.


THURSDAY, MAY 20, 2021, AT 7:30PM
Beethoven & Mozart Piano Concertos

Inon Barnatan, conductor & piano
Seattle Symphony


WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART    Piano Concerto No. 9 in E-flat major, K. 271, “Jeunehomme”

Rondo: Presto


LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN    Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat major, Op. 19

Allegro con brio
Rondo: Molto allegro


2020–2021 Season Streaming Sponsor: Scan|Design Foundation by Inger & Jens Bruun
2020–2021 Masterworks Season Sponsor: Delta Air Lines
Inon Barnatan’s performance is generously underwritten by James and Sherry Raisbeck.



Piano Concerto No. 9 in E-flat major, K. 271, “Jeunehomme”

BORN: January 27, 1756, in Salzburg, Austria
DIED: December 5, 1791, in Vienna, Austria
WORK PREMIERED: Unknown, but almost certainly early 1777, in Salzburg, by a French pianist known only as Mademoiselle Jeunehomme, playing with the Salzburg Court Orchestra.

When Mozart completed his Ninth Piano Concerto in 1777, he had been employed by the Salzburg court for four years. And though he had become increasingly frustrated with the creative limitations and financial instability of the post, Mozart’s time in Salzburg was a prolific period. He completed Piano Concertos Nos. 5–9; Symphonies Nos. 14–30; his five Violin Concertos; Bassoon Concerto; and his first thirteen String Quartets, including the Viennese Quartets K. 168–173. Mozart’s approach to form built upon those standardized by his colleague and mentor, Franz Joseph Haydn. In turn, Mozart’s creative decisions became a standard template in the composition and analysis of concertos in future decades.

His Piano Concerto No. 9 is indicative of the galant style, characterized by clear homophonic textures, symmetrical phrases, light articulation and virtuosic scalar passages. The starkness of the concerto’s texture and clear articulations speaks to the high level of accuracy required to bring out the concerto’s sparkling characteristics. The concerto’s nickname, “Jeunehomme,” (sometimes “Jenamy”) is in reference to the pianist Victoire Jenamy (1749–1812), Mozart’s unofficial dedicatee.

The Allegro opens with a playful exchange between orchestra and soloist. This playfulness extends throughout the movement, even during the more morose and sinister sonorities in the development section. The exchanges between ensemble and soloist in the Andantino reflects the soloist’s dual role of performer and conductor. The rollicking tempo, virtuosic arpeggios, sequences and scales of the Rondo: Presto nearly fly by until Mozart introduces a minuet — slow, elegant and still playful. The introduction of a minuet of considerable length challenges listeners’ expectations and pulls out the emotive potential of the Rondo’s themes. Just as we’ve gotten comfortable with the minuet, a dissonant section appears, bringing us back to Rondo’s main theme and the concerto’s rousing end.

Scored for solo piano; 2 oboes; 2 horns; strings.



Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat major, Op. 19

BORN: December 16, 1770, in Bonn, Germany
DIED: March 26, 1827, in Vienna, Austria
WORK PREMIERED: Unknown, but likely March 29, 1795, in Vienna, with Beethoven playing and conducting.

The timeline for Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat major, Op. 19, was more than a decade long. Extant materials indicate he began sketches for this work in the 1780s but did not revisit and expand upon them until 1793. By 1795, he had written enough material to perform the work in public; over the following years he would edit and revise before submitting the concerto for publication in 1801. It is this version that is most often performed and recorded today.

Beethoven was studying, performing and composing in a time where the emotional reservation and clear symmetry of the Enlightenment were shifting towards the emotional fidelity, intensity and individualism of the Romantic period. Musical ideas and techniques in turn came to reflect and embody those ideals. Listening to the Second Piano Concerto in that context is a fascinating exercise.

Stylistically, the work sometimes sounds removed from Beethoven’s aesthetic. And yet elements of his distinctiveness are present throughout: accented fortissimos, sweeping ascending and descending passages, and thick ensemble textures. The lightness and symmetrical phrasing of the Allegro con brio’s introduction belies the textural busyness and dynamic contrasts of the entire movement. Beethoven’s use of a fugue form in the cadenza section takes full advantage of the piano’s dynamic contrasts and darker, mellow tonal colors. Unlike Mozart and Haydn, Beethoven viewed the concerto soloist as the work’s center and focus; this is clear in the Adagio, where the ensemble is in service of the pianist. The Rondo: Molto allegro is the most melodically memorable and the most popular movement from this concerto. The main theme contains the exuberance and joy that would become less a character staple in Beethoven’s works than a pleasant, electrifying surprise.

Scored for solo piano; flute; 2 oboes; 2 bassoons; 2 horns; strings.

© 2021 A. Kori Hill

Posted on May 20, 2021