top of page

Mozart: Piano Sonatas 7 - 12 (Decca)


Sonatas 7 – 12, composed between 1777 and about 1783, mark a significant evolution with respect to the preceding ones: Mozart’s expressive world now takes on many new facets, and in Sonata K 310 it reaches dramatic depths of unprecedented intensity and sombreness. In the other sonatas, too, although seemingly “lighter”, we find an infinity of expressive approaches that had never previously appeared with such naturalness and variety of inflections. However, Mozart always succeeds in maintaining an admirable balance between seriousness and facetiousness, between playfulness and drama, with constant originality in his management of form.


CD 1

On the first CD there are the three Sonatas K 309, 310 and 311, published together in 1782 in Paris by Franz Joseph Heina as Mozart’s “opus IV”. The dates of composition are even earlier, and current musicological research (summed up in Alan Tyson’s authoritative book Mozart: Studies of the Autograph Scores, 1987) seems to confirm that Sonatas K 309 and K 311 were composed in the autumn of 1777, while K 310 was written in Paris in the spring of 1778. In chronological order, therefore, Sonata K 310 is no. 9 and K 311 is no. 8, but I have preferred to maintain the sequence adopted in the first edition, which offers a balanced alternation of varied modes of expression.

The genesis of Sonata K 309 is well documented in Mozart’s letters: we know, therefore, that the first movement was completed at the end of October 1777, when he arrived in Mannheim; the Andante is dated 4 November, and the Rondo, 8 November. The sonata is dedicated to Rose Cannabich, a promising fifteenyear-old pianist and daughter of the composer Christian Cannabich, a leading exponent of the so-called “Mannheim School”. And in the sonata we find numerous references to the typical stylistic features of the Mannheim symphonic style, such as the alternation of tutti and soli. The apparently schematic form conceals numerous subtleties and asymmetries already perceptible in the first part, arranged in groups of 2 + 5 bars. For the second movement we have a direct description given by Mozart himself. He writes as follows about the dedicatee: “pleasing … good sense … amiable … she is just what the Andante is”. In this Andante un poco adagio we find a very detailed variety of dynamic markings, with numerous contrasts between piano and forte and with crescendos that end with an unexpected piano, anticipating a practice that is common in Beethoven. The whole movement is constructed on the basis of brief phrases separated by pauses, like repeated sighs, which alternate wonder and enchantment. The third movement is an articulated Rondo which resumes the diatonic approach of the first movement: for the first twelve bars Mozart uses only the white keys, but the appearance of the C sharp in bar 13 conveys a more subtle ambiguity. Here, too, we find an alternation of soli and tutti, with the first tutti in bar 19. The end is unconventional, with an unusual pianissimo Coda that dies away into silence. Sonata K 310 was composed in Paris in the spring of 1778, immediately after the death of Mozart’s mother. It is his first piano sonata in a minor key and from the very beginning it reveals an overwhelming dramatic power, with a harsh accompaniment of repeated chords that create hard dissonances with the appoggiaturas of the right hand. The alternation of full and empty also develops a dramaturgical role, as in bars 6 and 7, where the quaver accompaniment gives way to “questioning” sighs alternating with pauses. The harsher contrasts come in the development, where there are fortissimo and pianissimo markings, confirming Mozart’s desire to go to the limit of the piano’s dynamic possibilities. The mood here is one of profound perturbation, intensified by the harmonic progressions and by the constant dissonances created by the appoggiaturas in the chords. The second movement is an enchanting oasis in F major. However, we perceive the latent presence of drama in the illusory, suspended mood of the initial theme, which suggests a serenity that is more dreamlike than real. “Reality” breaks in in the central part, in which we again find the dissonances of the first movement. The third movement has a fatalistic quality, based on an incessant movement of quavers. The sense of instability (almost of panic) is given by the writing of the left hand, which is often unsupported on the beat. Here we find brusque contrasts and leaps of register, until the peremptory, dramatic conclusion. As a transition between the dramatic depths of Sonata K 310 and the more relaxed tones of K 311 I have decided to insert the Fantasia K 397 in D minor/major, composed in 1782. It is an unfinished piece and is normally performed in the reconstruction by August Eberhard Müller, who added the last 10 bars, admittedly rather different from what Mozart might have composed. I am much more drawn to the idea (already pursued by Kristian Bezuidenhout on fortepiano in a recording made in 2012) that the Fantasia was conceived as an introduction to the Sonata in D major K 311 (just as the Fantasia K 475 was coupled by Mozart himself with Sonata K 457). Fantasia K 397 begins with an Andante in D minor that leads to a dramatic section, Adagio, full of sudden suspensions and abrupt dynamic intensifications. This is followed by a light-hearted episode in D major, Allegretto, which is interrupted in bar 97 by a cadence in the dominant, at which Mozart’s pen stopped. This suspension introduces us quite naturally to the more elegant atmosphere of Sonata K 311 in D major, written in the autumn of 1777. It opens with an original alternation of two contrasting thematic elements, recalling the beginning of the contemporary Concerto K 271, in which the soloist enters at the third bar, alternating with the orchestral tutti. The mood here is generally light-hearted, but not without momentary disturbances, expressed with the frequent and always varied ascending or descending chromatic appoggiaturas, which are particularly abundant in the second theme. The exposition has a Coda marked piano, a new feature, almost an aside. It becomes prominent in the development, where it takes on much more dramatic connotations. The recapitulation comes unexpectedly by way of suspended cadences, omitting the beginning of the first theme, which nevertheless reappears in the final part of the movement. The second movement is an Andante con espressione in G major. The harmonically plain writing, characterised by frequent harmonic pedals, contrasts with the sudden forte staccato chords in the third bar and with the asymmetries of the opening passage, consisting of 11 bars. The main theme appears two more times, always varied and alternating with a second episode which has an exquisitely cantabile quality. The Coda (present in the first edition but not in the manuscript) comes to an end “on tiptoe”, as it had already done in the first movement. Then there is a virtuoso Rondo. Its concertante quality is confirmed by the brief moment of cadenza in bar 173. The writing is often reminiscent of the orchestra, as in the tremolos that bring the sonata to a brilliant conclusion.

CD 2

Sonatas K 330, 331 and 332 were presumably composed between 1782 and 1783 and they were published together by Artaria in Vienna in 1784. They are three very different compositions and show complementary aspects of Mozart’s poetics, which by then had reached complete maturity. In Sonata K 330 in C major Mozart plays with earlier stylistic references, as he also does in other sonatas in the same key (K 279, K 309, K 545). In the first movement, Allegro moderato, the numerous quotations of conventional procedures of composition (such as the immediate repetition of the first two phrases or the writing derived from harpsichord formulas) are at the same time contradicted by the humorous devices that appear at various points in the piece. Thus there is a coexistence of simplicity and ambiguity. There are constant surprises, which come from the abrupt dynamic contrasts and from the sudden intensification and suspension of the discourse. In the recapitulation the second theme reappears, as if mistakenly, in the key of the dominant (G major), as if Mozart’s attention had been distracted, but immediately afterwards, with a sudden modulation, he presents it again in C major. The second movement is one of the most inspired examples of Mozart’s work. The key of F major creates an enchanted, suspended colour, with harmonic procedures similar to those of the Andante of Sonata K 310: here, too, in the second bar, there is an deceptive cadence. In every bar there is something surprising and magical, and there is certainly an allusion to worlds that are not real. In the central section in F minor we suddenly and illogically enter profound darkness, from which we emerge with the recapitulation of the initial theme. The Coda consists of the reappearance of the central theme in F minor, but now transformed into F major, pianissimo. In the third movement we return to a light-hearted gaiety, expressed here in the lightness of the writing and in the predominantly rapid, staccato articulations.

Sonata K 331 in A major owes its celebrity to the third movement, Allegretto “Alla Turca”, now universally known as the “Turkish March”. However, the first movement is more interesting and more ambitious. It is a theme with six variations, and it is the only first movement in Mozart’s sonatas that is not written in sonata form. The theme is a Siciliana, with a lilting, cantabile quality. It is arranged in 8 + 10 bars, and this is also maintained in the variations (with the sole exception of variation 6, which has the addition of a Coda). Each variation explores different techniques of thematic elaboration and ornamentation, each time introducing new elements of rhythm or harmony. The fifth variation is a poetic Adagio, which thus makes up for the lack of a slow movement in this sonata. The articulation is very carefully arranged and constitutes a model of ornamentation to be applied elsewhere. The manuscript of the sonata, discovered in Budapest in 2014, reveals that the last notes in the little scales in bars 5 and 6 of this variation are two hemidemisemiquavers and a demisemiquaver, and this rhythm is adopted in the present recording. The second movement, “Menuetto”, presents an initial theme derived from the first movement of Sonata K 309. The playful mood is based on an alternation of various articulations, with sudden piano markings. The version adopted here is the one in the manuscript just mentioned, which has an A rather than a C sharp at the third crotchet of bar 3 and in bars 24 and 26 remains in the key of A minor, with the major mode arriving suddenly in bar 27. In the Trio of the Menuetto we again find the crossing hands piano writing and the enchanting sonorities already seen in the fourth variation in the first movement. There is an evocative effect imitating birdsong in bars 57 and 93. The third movement is the celebrated Allegretto “Alla Turca”, universally known as the “Turkish March”. Here Mozart is referring to the Turkish characteristics, derived from the music of the Janissaries, which were fashionable in Vienna in the second half of the eighteenth century. The structure is that of an unconventional rondo, following a pattern of ABCBAB + coda. B is the “refrain”, which it is easy to imagine being played with the addition of a big drum and bells. In the present recording the return of the initial theme is slightly varied, and a very short cadenza is inserted in its last appearance. Behind its apparent simplicity, Sonata K 332 conceals an impressive variety of expressive devices. This can be seen in the very first thematic group, which presents as many as four “subthemes”, all characterised differently: the first phrase has a fullbodied cantabile quality, the second is three-part counterpoint ending with a cadence, forte, as if the sonata finished here. From this springs the third phrase, a fanfare evoking horns and woodwinds, in which the preceding lyricism makes way for a dancing gait. This, too, finishes with repeated cadences, this time piano. This acts as a preparation for the contrast of the entry of the fourth phrase, which functions as a modulating bridge, dramatically introducing the key of D minor. The second thematic group, in the dominant, begins with a theme that undoubtedly influenced Giuseppe Verdi when he composed La donna è mobile. Here, too, we have a gradual evolution from graceful to dramatic, leading to the syncopated sforzati. The second movement is an inspired Adagio in sonata form, but without a development. The first theme is exquisitely bel canto, arranged as a voice accompanied by an Alberti bass. The immediate repetition of the first phrase in the key of B flat minor suddenly casts doubt on the initial serenity. The second theme as instrumental characteristics, evoking writing for string trio. Both themes return in the subsequent recapitulation, with rich ornamentation indicated by Mozart in the first Artaria edition. They constitute a perfect model of the procedures of thematic elaboration used by Mozart, and are applicable in other cases in which they are not indicated in the score. The third movement is one of Mozart’s most virtuoso piano pieces. It is also organised in sonata form and presents notable dramatic leaps. The first thematic group consists of a volley of brilliant semiquavers, descending and then ascending chromatically. There is an abundance of sudden piano markings, which contribute to the humorous qualities of the piece, and sforzati on D flat in the left hand. The conclusion, pianissimo, is unexpected, contradicting the brilliant tone with which the movement had begun. To complete the CD there is the fragment of Sonata K 400 in B flat major, probably composed in Vienna in 1781 and therefore almost contemporary with the other sonatas on this album. The manuscript breaks off at bar 91, at the beginning of the recapitulation. The present recording adopts the contemporary reconstruction by Maximilian Städler, published by Baerenreiter. The most interesting part is undoubtedly the development: it is here that the dramatic peak is reached, especially in the two suspensive sighs in bars 71 and 72, which in the manuscript bear the names of Sophie and Constanze, respectively: presumably Weber’s sisters. Constanze was to become Mozart’s wife. In fact, in 1781 Mozart became a lodger in their house, as he recorded in a letter to his father on 25 July.

The instrument used in this recording is the same as in the previous one (sonatas 1 – 6), a Fazioli F 278 concert grand tuned in accordance with the Vallotti unequal temperament, with the aim of restoring a sonority that may recall the transparency and vitality of the fortepianos of the time. In the rare parts in which Mozart writes pp (pianissimo), the sordino is often used: a device generally actioned by a pedal, already present on the fortepianos of the time. It is a thin piece of felt, placed between the hammers and the strings, which provides a more intimate, muffled sound. The central part in F minor and the Coda of the second movement of Sonata K 330, for example, seem to me particularly suited to the use of this effect. Great attention has been devoted to respecting the original articulations and dynamics, also in the cases in which they are indicated in the first edition but not in the manuscript. We know, in fact, that Mozart was very exacting in the revision of the first edition and that he added dynamic markings lacking in the manuscript, which he quite rightly wished to be respected with great precision. He wrote about Sonata K 309 in a letter to his father from Mannheim on 14 November 1777. “The Andante will give us most trouble, for it is full of expression, and must be played with accuracy and taste, and the fortes and pianos given just as they are marked.” Only in the case of Sonata K 331 has priority been given to the manuscript: its discovery in Budapest in 2014 has made it possible to correct some mistakes made by the copyist in the first and second movements, as specified in the illustrations included here, kindly provided by the National Széchényi Library in Budapest, where the manuscript is now preserved. The intention of getting as close as possible to the poetic heart of Mozart’s sonatas has led me to a reading that also leaves room for inventive freshness and the joy of playing with the inspiration of these works.


In the ritornellos, here almost always performed, I have introduced some minimal variants, following the example given by Mozart himself in the sonatas in which he writes out the embellishments in his own hand. As in the previous recording, there are brief moments of improvised cadenza in the articulations and in the suspensions, with the idea of also restoring the enthusiasm and inspiration that undoubtedly characterised Mozart’s own performances.


Roberto Prosseda

Comments


bottom of page