Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 9, the “Jeunehomme” Concerto, was a landmark event in the composer’s career. It was his first undisputed masterpiece in any genre. It is not only the earliest of Mozart’s piano concertos to remain in the popular repertory, but one of the finest by any standard. It is also the longest – only Concerto No. 22, K. 482 (also in E-flat) comes close – which means that it was also the longest piano concerto written before Beethoven, and even the latter’s concertos surpass it by only a few minutes.
Right from the opening moments we know we are in for something special. Orchestra and soloist share the first subject, a novel gesture. Not until Beethoven’s Fourth Concerto (1806) did the piano soloist play anything until the orchestral exposition was finished. This opening gesture becomes a hallmark of the entire movement: orchestra plays the fanfare, piano responds. Only once is the order reversed – at the announcement of the recapitulation, and it is a startling moment indeed to experience this exchange of roles.
The second movement is the first of those truly tragic slow movements that become a feature of the later Mozart piano concertos. Many listeners find that this music, so deeply imbued with profound pathos and searing beauty, resembles a grand operatic scena, in which a vocalist is replaced by the piano. Violins are muted throughout (still another “first” in a Mozart piano concerto), resulting in a veiled sonority.
The finale too abounds in surprises. The rondo is set in motion by the soloist with a highly spirited main theme. Three contrasting episodes are presented in alternation with returns of the main theme. The third of these episodes constitutes perhaps the greatest surprise of the entire concerto – a seventy-measure minuet that amounts nearly to a movement in itself. In almost every respect it contrasts with what came before: tempo (moderate), meter (triple rather than duple), key (A-flat major) and mood (gracious and composed).
And what of the concerto’s subtitle, “Jeunehomme”? Until quite recently, it was widely presumed that this was the name of the lady for whom Mozart wrote the concerto. However, research by the Viennese musicologist Michael Lorenz in the early twenty-first century uncovered her true identity: she was a Frenchwoman named Victoire Jenamy (1749-1812), and the name “Jeunehomme” had been a fabrication invented by biographers Wyzewa and Saint-Foix more than a century ago but never used by Mozart himself.
Notes by Robert Markow