The article examines a group of closing gestures in Mozart's piano concertos, passages of soloistic virtuosity just before the last tuttis of the exposition and recapitulation. Serving as grand cadential clinchers and clothed in conventional figuration, these spots—sometimes called “display episodes”—appear to highlight performative prowess at the expense of compositional invention. As such, beyond an acknowledgment of the appropriateness of stock passagework at this point, analysis can have little to say: the episodes are either self-evidently simple or transparent to theoretical apparatus.
I suggest, however, that by using the vantage point of variation, conceived broadly, not just as a technique but as a manner of organizing musical thoughts, new insights can emerge about these passages. This wider conception of variation is sanctioned both by historical precedent (Daube, Koch) and by contemporary usage (Sisman, Agawu); the specific invocation of it in connection with the display episodes is suggested initially by their characteristic bipartite format. Seen through the variation lens, elements such as contrapuntal ingenuity, complex modular arrangements within and between phrases, and an affinity for textural exploration come to the fore. These elements constitute a display of compositional virtuosity that is a counterpart to the more evident performative fireworks.