Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgang Gottlieb Mozart, who began calling himself Wolfgang Amadeo about 1770 and Wolfgang Amadè in 1777, was born in Salzburg, Austria, on January 27, 1756, and died in Vienna on December 5, 1791. He composed his concerto for two pianos early in 1779, presumably for performance in Salzburg by himself with his sister Nannerl.
In addition to the two solo pianos, the score calls for 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, and strings (violins I and II, violas, cellos, and double basses).
In the period just before the completion of the Symphony No. 34 in C, K.338, Mozart was intensely interested in the possibilities of concertos with more than one solo instrument. In 1774, he had written what he called a Concertone, a big concerto, for two violins, but in 1778-79 there suddenly appeared a run of six multiple concertos. More precisely, we have three completed works, two that were abandoned partway through, and one puzzle. The completed ones are the rather perfunctory piece for flute and harp, K.297c, the present—and delightful—Concerto for two pianos, and the great Sinfonia concertante for violin and viola, K.364[320d]. He also began a concerto in D for piano and violin, K.315f, in November 1778 and a Sinfonia concertante in A for violin, viola, and cello, K.320e, in the summer or early fall of 1779. Mozart, alas, abandoned both these more than promising beginnings, not because of dissatisfaction or trouble with them, but because the concerts for which they were intended were canceled. The puzzle, finally, is the Sinfonia concertante in E-flat for winds, K.297b, whose genesis cannot be properly established and which some scholars believe to be spurious.
Maria Anna Mozart, whose family nickname was Nannerl, was born in Salzburg on July 30, 1751. Like Wolfgang, she was taught by their father and became an excellent pianist. The two children often performed together, but from 1769 on—Wolfgang was just about to turn thirteen and Nannerl was in her eighteenth year—after a year in Vienna that had included an audience with the Empress Maria Theresia and the Emperor Joseph II, Nannerl was no longer included on the family concert tours. She married into the minor nobility, taught piano as a young woman and again as a widow, and died in 1829, having spent virtually all of the last sixty years in Salzburg or nearby St. Gilgen.
We don’t know for just what occasion Mozart wrote this concerto. We do know that he found it a rewarding piece for his concerts in Vienna, where he played it twice with his pupil Josephine Auernhammer. For these performances he added parts for two clarinets, two trumpets, and timpani, but they do not survive. There are, however, authentic cadenzas, partly in the composer’s handwriting, partly in his father’s.
Mozart’s two Vienna performances of the Double Concerto were in 1781 and 1787. It was in 1781 that Mozart made his permanent move from Salzburg to Vienna; 1787 was the date of the first of his four journeys to Prague, the year of the C major and G minor viola quintets, of the A minor Rondo for piano and Eine kleine Nachtmusik, of the A major violin sonata, K.526, and of Don Giovanni, the year also of the deaths of his father and of the pet starling who could whistle the theme of the finale of the piano concerto in G. Between the two years we have the phenomenal rise of Mozart’s reputation in Vienna and the start of its decline. He married Constanze Weber, with whose older sister Aloysia he had once been very much in love, and three children were born, of whom one survived infancy. And he wrote in those few years The Abduction from the Seraglio, the six quartets dedicated to Haydn, most of his great piano concertos, the Haffner and Linz symphonies, a quartet and a quintet with piano, the large fragment of the C minor Mass, and Figaro. Among other things.
Michael Steinberg was program annotator of the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 1976 to 1979, and after that of the San Francisco Symphony and New York Philharmonic. Oxford University Press has published three compilations of his program notes, devoted to symphonies, concertos, and the great works for chorus and orchestra.
The first Boston Symphony Orchestra performances of Mozart’s Concerto for Two Pianos were given by pianists Mary E. O’Brion and Olga von Radecki conducted by Georg Henschel. The concerto hasn’t been played in a BSO concert in Symphony Hall since Serge Koussevitzky led it with soloists Pierre Loboshutz and Genia Nemenoff in October 1944, though the Boston Pops have played it here frequently, most recently in May 2015 under Keith Lockhart with soloists Ursula Oppens and Phillip Moll. The most recent BSO performance was at Tanglewood on July 29, 1990, with soloists Claude Frank and Lilian Kallir under Valery Gergiev’s direction.