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Mozart Complete Piano Sonatas

Between 2016 and 2019, Decca released the complete recording of Mozart's Sonatas by Roberto Prosseda, in 6 CDs. The pianist chose to record this repertoire on a Fazioli F278 piano, at the Fazioli Concert Hall, tuned with the Vallotti temperament: a non-equal system, widespread in Mozart's time, that emphasizes the expressive and color differences between the various tonalities. This particular tuning, which is very rarely used in the modern piano, makes Prosseda's recording unique in Mozart's piano discography.

Starting in 2019, Prosseda is also presenting the complete cycle of Mozart sonatas live, breaking down the 18 sonatas into four concerts:

First concert

Sonatas K 279, 280, 281, 282, 283

Second concert

Sonatas K 284, 309, 310, 311, 330

Third concert

Sonatas K 331, 332, 333, 457

Fourth concerto

Sonatas K 545, 533-494, 570, 576

From the liner notes of the Decca CD "Mozart Piano Sonatas, 1 -6"

Is there really a need for yet another recording of Mozart's Sonatas? Is it still possible to say something new by playing these compositions while staying within the score and the author's instructions? If Mozart were alive again today, would he prefer to perform his Sonatas on a fortepiano of the period or on a modern piano?

These are questions to which it is not possible to give an unequivocal answer, but which I have given much thought to, also taking advantage of the availability of sources and many recent philological studies. In the aforementioned letter to his father, written on October 17, 1777, Mozart states his enthusiasm about a new Stein piano he had tried out, equipped with a rudimentary system for operating the dampers (corresponding to the right pedal in modern instruments): "The [Sonata] in D major has an incomparable effect on the Stein piano. The toggle pedal system is superior to any other made by him or others. One only has to touch it and it is operated, and as soon as one slightly releases the knee, one no longer hears the slightest reverberation." This shows Mozart's curiosity about innovations, and his readiness to experiment with instruments that allow for greater variety of expression.

Today it is possible to consult the manuscripts of the first six Sonatas, currently held at the Biblioteka Jagiellońska in Kraków, and there are various critical editions that compare the manuscript with the first published editions. Looking at the scores, one is struck by the large amount of original articulation marks, which we will not find with such abundance in the later Sonatas. I have therefore tried to carefully follow the original ligatures and dynamics, even in cases where tradition has accustomed us to softer sonorities and smoother contours. It is precisely from the slurs and the various types of staccato (nails or dots) that we can deduce the kind of "pronunciation" of a musical phrase that Mozart envisioned. Even the dynamic signs, here seemingly limited to forte and piano (crescendo and decrescendo are rare, and pianissimo very rare), reveal a poetic world where contrasts are fundamental to the definition of adequate expressive variety.

To best restore these intentions, I needed an instrument that was particularly sensitive and with a different sonority from the usual "glossy" sound of the modern piano. I therefore considered recording the Sonatas on fortepianos from Mozart's time, trying out various historical instruments and some recent copies. Practice with the fortepiano was of great importance to me: I was able to discover sonorities and modes of expression that allowed me to enter deeper into the Mozart world and enrich my timbral imagination. However, I had to take note that my "mother tongue" remains the modern piano, an instrument I have been playing for almost 40 years, and with which I can express a greater variety of musical intentions with immediacy.

So I decided to use a Fazioli grand piano built in 2015, generously made available by engineer Paolo Fazioli at the Fazioli Concert Hall in Sacile. The highly refined mechanics of this instrument and the sensitivity of the soundboard, which is particularly responsive to differences in touch, allow for many shades of color, rendering different articulations with clarity. It is also possible to play with microdynamics in contexts of extreme rapidity, such as within trills or clusters, and the original Forte-Piano indications, that is, of a sudden dynamic jolt within a held note, can be effectively realized. The idea of recreating the transparency of forte-piano sonority led me to minimize the use of the resonance pedal and seek sonorities bordering on silence in the rare instances when Mozart indicates pianissimo.

The particular color of fortepiano recordings is also given by the historical tuning, which does not use equable temperament. Taking up the suggestion of my friends Jan Willem de Vriend and Stuart Isacoff, to whom I am very grateful for their valuable advice, I suggested to Fazioli that the piano be tuned according to the unequal "Vallotti" temperament, which is decidedly unusual today on the modern piano, but very common in the years when Mozart composed these Sonatas. The difference from common modern tuning lies in the different color that each tonality acquires, due to the division of the octave into twelve unequal semitones. Thus each Sonata has an entirely distinctive character, and it is understandable why Mozart set some movements in a particular key. For example, the F minor of the Adagio of Sonata K 280 here takes on a distinctly affranged, not generically melancholy tone. And when, after the opening aside, we move to the section in A-flat major, it sounds more precariously and illusory, suggesting the idea of a happiness only imagined, far removed from reality.

In transitions from one key to another, whether they occur abruptly or gradually, it is thus much easier to grasp the shift from one harmonic (and emotional) place to another in a much more engaging way. The dissonant harmonies sound more strident and "painful," emphasizing the dramatic and visionary power that is already present in these early Sonatas, making them, almost 250 years later, music of great force and modernity.

Roberto Prosseda


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