The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

22 May 2004

Title evolution

In Köchel's listing, it's K. 467; we know it as Mozart's Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 21 in C Major.

I say "we" because apparently there are a lot of us: a search for "mozart k. 467" at amazon.com produced 499 hits, and rather a lot of the offerings, even the serious ones — as distinguished from, say, Classical Music for People Who Hate Classical Music — list K. 467 with the additional title "Elvira Madigan."

This title, of course, was not affixed by Mozart. (If I remember correctly, his only piano concerto to which he gave an additional title was No. 9, K. 271, "Jeunehomme," which he composed for a pianist by that name.) Elvira Madigan is the title of a 1967 film by Bo Widerberg that found surprisingly wide acceptance in the counterculture of the day, and which featured the Andante from No. 21; the classical record business being in one of its periodic sloughs of despond at the time, it seemed only logical to pitch issues (or, better yet, reissues) of No. 21 with the connection to the film played up.

I'm not quite sure how I feel about this. It's not like titles haven't been applied after the fact before — Schubert certainly didn't come up with "Unfinished" for his Symphony No. 8, and while he might have agreed with "The Great" for No. 9, he never heard it played in his lifetime, depriving him of an opportunity to say so — but somehow it's hard to think of "Elvira Madigan" up there in some musical Pantheon alongside, say, "Appassionata" or "Waldstein."

(Parenthetical note: One music writer whom I have unfortunately forgotten suggested many years ago that all the additional titles, he at one time had thought, were the names of people the composers wished to honor; there was some complicated exposition to describe, for instance, the meeting of Ludwig van Beethoven with French expatriate music publisher Jean-Richard Lester "Les" Adieux.)

(Second parenthetical note: The previous note was in parentheses; isn't describing it as a "parenthetical note" superfluous? And isn't this one more so?)

Still, The Industry has to move CDs, or whatever medium will replace them, so get used to it: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 21 in C Major, K. 467, "Elvira Madigan." It's not without precedent: "Coronation" wasn't Mozart's idea for No. 26 (K. 537) either. And if a smidgen of Mozart's immortality should rub off on Bo Widerberg, so be it; Mozart has plenty to spare, and it gives me an excuse to go see Widerberg's movie.

(Disclosure: This was prompted by listening to a recording of No. 21 this morning, specifically Gulda's with Abbado and the Vienna, from 1975. Alan Blyth's liner notes — one should always read liner notes — make passing reference to "Elvira Madigan," though it's not mentioned on the front cover.)

Posted at 10:43 AM to Tongue and Groove