Mozart Minute: The Early Career of a Piano Concerto by Mozart

Mar 10, 2016

Even as Mozart was establishing himself Vienna as a freelance composer and performer, his new musical compositions were also establishing themselves among the world’s great masterworks. Here’s how Mozart’s Piano Concerto in D minor, K. 466 made its way into the world.

  On January 22, 1785, Leopold wrote from Salzburg to his daughter, Nannerl, that he had received a letter from Wolfgang, who noted that he had just begun composing a new piano concerto. The concerto would become Mozart’s Piano Concerto in D minor, K. 466

A few weeks later, on February 16, Leopold wrote Nannerl again, this time from Vienna and with news about Wolfgang’s first subscription concert there that year. The concert had taken place the previous Friday. Leopold noted that “a great many members of the aristocracy were present” and that “the concert was magnificent and the orchestra played splendidly.” Leopold also wrote that the program included “a new and very fine concerto by Wolfgang, which the copyist was still copying when we arrived, and the rondo of which your brother did not even have time to play through, as he had to supervise the copying.” (Letters of Mozart and His Family, trans. Emily Anderson).

In the same letter, Leopold wrote Nannerl that the previous day Wolfgang had performed the same piano concerto on a recital featuring the Viennese opera singer Elizabeth Distler. “Your brother played his new grand concerto in D minor most magnificently,” Leopold wrote.

About a year later, Mozart’s D minor piano concerto had left the hands of its creator and had journeyed beyond Vienna. On March 23, 1786, Leopold wrote from Salzburg to Nannerl that his student Heinrich Marchand had performed the concerto in a concert the previous day. Marchand played the solo keyboard part from Mozart’s autograph score. Michael Haydn, the younger brother of Franz Joseph Haydn, served as page turner and, Leopold wrote, “at the same time had the pleasure of seeing with what art (the concerto) is composed, how delightfully the parts are interwoven and what a difficult concerto it is.”

Evidently the concerto’s audience in Salzburg was no less illustrious than the one that greeted it in Vienna. Leopold's letter continued, “This time too there was a great crowd and all the Eccelsiastical Councillors and University Professors were present. […] In short, the Emperor might have been there. The Archbishop remained until nine o’clock.”