Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 9 is 240 years old, and much about its creation remains a mystery, but pianist Garrick Ohlsson has no doubt that the 21-year-old composer was inspired by the same thing that motivates so many young men: a girl.
“Whoever she was, she must have been a very special pianist – and lady,” said Ohlsson, 69, who will perform the work this week with the Pacific Symphony under guest conductor Rune Bergmann.
The concerto’s nickname, the “Jenamy,” is possibly a reference to Victoire Jenamy (1749-1812), the daughter of the famous 18th-century ballet master Jean-Georges Noverre. She was apparently in Salzburg during the winter of 1776-77, the time and place of the concerto’s birth. Jenamy was, by many reports, an accomplished pianist; if she could play this concerto, she must have been good. Mozart used it to show off his keyboard chops when he was auditioning for jobs in Mannheim and Paris in 1777-78. Apparently he was proud of it, too: It was the first of his piano concertos to appear in print, published in Paris around 1780.
“It’s such a fully developed work,” said Ohlsson, who has been performing it since 1967. “The difference between his 8th and 9th (concertos) is vast. He’s inhabiting a different world of maturity.”
Ohlsson said it’s hard for early 21st-century audiences to appreciate how revolutionary the work would have been when it debuted.
“We’ve had so much musical history since then. ‘Rite of Spring’ was 100 years ago. We’re no longer astonished by much. But having the piano enter early, in the third bar, was really astonishing at the time.” Until then, standard practice in concertos was to let the orchestra make a full thematic statement before the soloist entered.
The concerto is full of audacious…