1786 was a productive year for Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791). His career was at a high point, and that year he easily wrote a symphony (The Prague), an opera (Le Nozze di Figaro) and three piano concertos (among which no. 23). Both with Le Nozze di Figaro and with his Piano Concerto no. 23 he won the admiration of the public, both then and now. Like many others, the Japanese composer Toshio Hosokawa (1955) loves it as well. In 2006, as a tribute to Mozart, he composed the piano concerto Lotus under the Moonlight, in which he integrated that famous second movement as a theme.

an introverted piano concerto

The piano concerto was one of the genres in which Mozart excelled - both in the number of compositions and in their quality. The basis for the genre was laid around 1730 by Johann Sebastian Bach, and continued by his sons Carl Philipp Emmanuel and Johann Christian. Mozart responded to this, modelling existing and new form principles into a dramatic genre in which virtuosity and attention to aesthetics keep each other in balance. And while the Bach family were still composing for the harpsichord, Mozart was fortunate enough to have a new instrument at his disposal: the pianoforte, which, thanks to its hammer mechanism, was capable of dynamic nuances.

Mozart completed his Piano Concerto no.23, K 488 in La major, on 2 March 1786. It is one of his more sensitive works, and the introvert atmosphere forms a great contrast with the tragicomic opera Le Nozze di Figaro, which he was finalising at the time. This is particularly evident in the poignant second movement, an Adagio in fa cross small. Mozart used this key in his complete oeuvre only in this piece. Also remarkable is the orchestration of the piano concerto: Mozart replaced the oboes with two clarinets, leaving out trumpets and timpani. The typical timbre of the clarinet creates an intimate, melancholic tone. In a letter to Prince Josef von Fürstenberg, the composer stated that the part could also be played by a violin and viola if the prince did not have clarinets at his disposal. It would soon become a favourite of the public.

swirling scenes

A few months after the premiere of Mozart's Piano Concerto no. 23, his opera Le Nozze di Figaro also premiered. This opera buffa was the first in a series of three successful collaborations with librettist Lorenzo da Ponte. The story is based on a play by Pierre Beaumarchais that was initially banned in Vienna because of its provocative tone and questioning of the established order. But Mozart's librettist Da Ponte managed to convince the authorities that he had removed the political undertone from the play, and the opera was approved.

Unlike in most overtures, in the opening part of Le Nozze di Figaro no themes from the opera are presented. However, the lively overture immediately sets the tone for the intrigues, passionate loves and hectic scenes which will follow. The overture begins with a lively murmur, like a gossip of listeners, that swells to an energetic theme. The music continues at an insane pace, without any rest. On 1 May 1786 Mozart used the dazzling opening tones of Le Nozze di Figaro at the keyboard for the premiere in the Viennese Burghtheater. The opera was an instant success and is to this day one of the most performed musical theatre works in the world.

“Since I was a child, that piano concerto has been one of my favourites of European music. When I composed this concerto, I imagined a lotus flower still in bud, on a quiet moonlit night, at the moment of flowering. It is a humble expression of my admiration for the music of Mozart (and for Western music).”
- toshio hosokawa

homage

Toshio Hosokawa is one of Japan's leading contemporary composers. The Western avant-garde style was introduced in his early works, but over the years Eastern influences also seeped into his compositions. Hosokawa consciously explores the boundaries between the two cultures, as evidenced by his combinations of traditional Japanese and European instruments.

In 2006 the Norddeutscher Rundfunk asked Hosokawa, in honour of the Mozart year, to select a Mozart piano concerto and to compose a concerto for the same instrumentation. He chose Mozart's Piano Concerto no.23, K. 488 in la major. Hosokawa's admiration for Mozart's talent is demonstrated by the use of the lotus as a symbol: in Buddhism the lotus is the flower with the highest status. In Lotus under the Moonlight the piano plays the role of the lotus flower, while the orchestra represents what surrounds the plant - the water, the cosmos, nature. Hosokawa sees the blossoming of that lotus flower - or in this case the soloist - as a metaphor for the spiritual growth of every being.

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