#233-4: Two takes on Mozart’s Piano Concerto K. 488

April 15, 2007

As I wade into the idea of improvising full Classical cadenzas for actual repertory, I’m quickly drawn to Mozart’s Piano Concerto in A Major K. 488. Not just because it’s my favorite of the Mozart concertos, but because its cadenza is I think greatly underappreciated as a document of the history of improvisation.

As many readers probably know, concertos were classical forms that combined a soloist and orchestra, and “cadenzas” were structural corners of the piece where the soloist improvised a flight of fancy. Mozart’s Concerto K. 488 has a cadenza written out by Mozart, so it might be a surprise to think I want to improvise on that one, when there are so many without a Mozart cadenza.

However, this cadenza is so interesting because it does nothing! This cadenza contains basically no thematic material, just a bunch of scales, arpeggios, and general flourishing. This is unusual in that cadenzas generally did refer back to the themes of the piece. For this reason, this document is a valuable “stepping-stone” between the one-breath flourishes of fermata-cadenzas and the longer, often thematically structured free cadenzas, and shows that improvising a cadenza didn’t have to be tough at all – just stick to a couple of progressions that alternate dominants with colorful predominants, and flourish away.

Horowitz surmised that it “must have been written for one of his pupils who was not very advanced”, and didn’t use it, playing instead a more complex cadence by Busoni. Similarly, those of us interested in improvisation have a tantalizing invitation. What would a cadenza for a more sophisticated student have been like? We are free to offer our own ideas. What follows is the Mozart original, with two of my own initial forays into this question improvised in quick succession.

p.s. If you want a good recording of this piece, two are strongly recommended: the Horowitz-Giulini recording and Richard Goode’s with Orpheus.

Mozart original: 15 April 2007

Cadenza 1: 15 April 2007

Cadenza 2: 15 April 2007


One Response to “#233-4: Two takes on Mozart’s Piano Concerto K. 488”

  1. Eric Edberg Says:

    Hey, Eric–this is a great idea. I especially enjoyed the comments (in addition to the fine playing). This entry just became a reading/listening assignment in my Improvisation in Western Art Music course.

    And I’m enjoying the jukebox player–what a handy program. Thanks for making all this available.

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