Marco's Blog

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Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 10

2007-04-20 5 min read marco

{moszoomimglink:Mozart}Not a great many stories start with the sentence: “So, I was at the Border’s store to get on fast Internet, when I wandered off to the classical CD section.” Admittedly, sounds like a nerd crossed with a geek meeting a dork. What can I say? Is growing up in Europe an excuse?

In any case, I was perusing (that’s a nerd term for you!) the CDs when I noticed the “4 for 3” special in the store. I scoured the place for 4 CDs that might be interesting, paid for them and put them in a bag to be forgotten for a couple of days. Who knows, maybe stale classics get pepped up by a few hours in the Hilo sun?

It’s Friday night, and instead of going out to have fun in Hilo (Hilo sun, Hilo fun, am I like paid per oxymoron?) I hang out at home. I mean, really, this place is swanky and I’d rather commune with the cows and pigs on the Marco farm than with their counterpart cows and pigs in town!

Time to unwrap a CD. I choose this wrinkly collection of Mozart piano concertos with recordings by “revered masters” (read: cheap!) and on the second CD I hit pay dirt.

The first concerto is the most agreeable No. 23 – a melancholy start that is soon followed up by horns, followed by the second movement, one of the saddest pieces of music I know. It’s gorgeous, one of the very few seconds movements I can stand even in my cheerful self. Suddenly, the annoying third movement is all jumpy like a flea on ICE. Can’t wait to get to the next concerto.

Oops, it’s No. 10… Not so hot, I think, remembering the old days when my mother would get her old shellac LPs out of the cupboard and play them at 78 RPM. No. 10 is one of the really early piano concertos, from the original Salzburg period (actually, I think it was the last one of that period) and suffers from all the predictability of music by a young genius.

Well, that’s true for the first movement. I listened through it, not surprised at not being surprised and was about to lose myself in my Internet surfing. The second movement started grating on my nerves: two pianos in slo-mo, that’s too much!

Then the third movement starts. In this recording, it has all the charm of a 1920-es movie, with its odd instruments, odd arrangements, odd microphones, odd phrasing. It prattles along without saying much. The orchestra is out of control, drowning the pianos when it is allowed to.

But then it happens: the pianos start playing the theme in unison, and they lose themselves in a riff of majestic beauty, even in the crinkly piano sound with the exaggerated basses I have to endure in this recording. To convince me even more, the riff is replayed with added (and thankfully quiet) orchestra. No, Marco, you heard right, it is divine.

We move on, without much ado. Strangely, from here on, the music sounds different, more modern – it still plays the same stuff, and it’s quite uninspired. Until I realize that this is exactly how Mozart wrote his music. I have no time to catch my thought: the next riff jumps in, the music has become serious, I am splattered against my chair, trying to convince the remote to work across 40 feet of living room.

I got it: it’s the surprise that makes Mozart. He’d spend ten minutes toying with you, presenting you with a theme that nobody could ever take seriously; then, just when you are about to declare him overhyped, he moves forward, slowly, from cliche to cliche. Then, all a sudden, a turn you should have seen coming, and the music comes out of heaven and hell at the same time. You sit there, thinking it is going to last forever, and realizing you couldn’t survive that much bliss. And as soon as it’s over, you have to run back to the remote and rewind.

How did he do that? Not once, but many times in the same concerto. You just sit there, and you think you are walking down a strip mall, but all of a sudden you are in the middle of Ground Zero in New York and you can see the Liberty Tower standing before it’s even built. And then, just as suddenly, you are back to the strip mall, and you don’t know what happened.

Nowadays, of course I have my remote that I abuse like a magic wand. Imagine the poor listener in the late XIX century, who has no way to make that music come back. It’s just there for a second, then it’s gone for good. Next concerto in a month. And it’s gonna be Salieri, let’s see if he gets it right this time.

You know what, I am so happy I don’t know a time when I just couldn’t listen to the same music again. That’s probably the greatest invention of the XX century, instant replay. Forget the Internet!