The piano concertos, like his operas, are where you get to meet Mozart himself. And what you find is a man who sought to disrupt privilege and let us see the world through the eyes of others
When I was 12, my piano teacher gave me a great gift. For my first piano concerto, he assigned me Mozart’s 23rd, in A major, one of the most perfect pieces ever written. “Kiddo,” he said, “you have to understand that this piece is a privilege.” I begged my father to take me to the music store right away; on the ride home, I caressed the happy yellow cover, adorned with laurels. For weeks, my parents didn’t need to force me to practice. I loved even those first four bars – how they folded in, all intimate lyricism. And then the next bars, how they piped up, as if laughing off the first.
My teacher’s use of the word “privilege” came back to me recently — he probably wouldn’t phrase it that way now. The word hangs heavily in the air these days. It has lost what positive connotations it had. But privilege and Mozart have a fascinating, fraught relationship. Just look at his two most famous operas: The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni. Both plots are centred (not loosely, but obsessively) on the privileges of terrible people, and derive most of their momentum from destroying their outdated senses of entitlement. Count Almaviva asserts the right to deflower his servants; the Don claims the right to sleep with anyone and anything that moves, whether they consent or not.