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Piano Sonata K281 in B flat major

At the end of 1774, Mozart travelled from Salzburg, Austria to Munich (then in Bavaria, and part of the Holy Roman Empire). He had been commissioned to compose the opera ‘La Finta Giardiniera’ and the performance was to be in January 1775, just before Mozart’s nineteenth birthday. Mozart must have anticipated keyboard performances of his own after the event, as he composed a set of six sonatas for his own use at this time. He described these sonatas as ‘difficult.’ Previously, Mozart had written movements (which survive in the repertoire) and sonata fragments (which do not). These six sonatas are the first of his that exist in this complete form. Mozart did indeed perform in Munich after ‘La Finta’ – until March, when he returned to Salzburg. He continued to perform these six sonatas in concerts until 1778.

 

To play or hear these sonatas in chronological order is quite revealing. Over the space of a few months (thought to be December 1774 – March 1775), we see the transformation of a young composer influenced by Johann Christian Bach to a musician who puts his own stamp on the sonata – a form that he would continue to develop, and one that would be further advanced by Beethoven. The Sonata in B flat, K281, is the third in this series.

 

The first movement is almost ‘Haydnesque’ – finely-worked and elegant, but with Mozart’s own touches. Although Mozart would not meet Haydn until 1783, he continued to listen to and learn from the work of other composers, and he certainly would have been aware of Haydn’s compositions.

 

For Mozart, though, melody was paramount. The second movement is marked ‘Andante Amoroso.’ It is an unusually fervent marking, but it reflects Mozart’s love of opera. Passion, sorrow, and drama were the themes in ‘La Finta,’ and they are also here, in this poignant second movement.

 

The third movement is pure Mozart. It is a rondo with a wealth of thematic material. Cadenza-like passages form bridges between the end of the episodes and the return of the theme. Playful and ebullient with lyrical moments – this movement encapsulates the musical essence of its composer, who lived for only 35 years but contributed so much to western classical music.

 

Piano Sonata K576 in D major

In 1789, Prince Karl Lichnowsky (a composer and freemason) invited Mozart to travel with him to Berlin. There, Mozart would meet and play to the King of Prussia, Friedrich Wilhelm 2nd. The king was a music lover and a cellist. After a successful performance, the king commissioned six string quartets from Mozart, as well as six ‘easy’ keyboard sonatas for his daughter, Princess Friederike.

 

When Mozart returned to his home in Vienna, he composed three of the string quartets, which were the last string quartets he would ever write. Mozart died two years later. However, none of the six easy sonatas materialized. Instead, in that July, he composed one of his most difficult sonatas – K576 in D major. It has been known as ‘The Hunt’ because of its horn-like opening theme. This was the last keyboard sonata Mozart would write.

 

The most noteworthy feature of this sonata is the counterpoint in the outer movements, and it is the counterpoint and required dexterity that make it technically challenging. There is a serious tone which penetrates all three movements.

 

The first movement is a mix of tension and tranquility. The hunting theme, arresting at the beginning, takes on a sense of urgency when developed and employed contrapuntally. The second subject is lyrical, providing a moment of calm before the intensity returns.

The slow movement is a gentle piece in ternary form, with a magical central section in F sharp minor.

The last movement is a lively rondo, with turbulent passagework underpinning the various workings of the main theme.

 

When he composed this sonata in the summer of 1789, Mozart’s life was a mixture of highs and lows. His finances were a great concern. Prince Karl had lent him money, perhaps on their journey to Berlin, and Mozart was unable to pay him back. It broke their friendship and the prince successfully sued Mozart not long before his death in 1791.

Piano Sonata in B flat major, K333

 

This Sonata is a favourite of pianists. Austrian musician, Paul Badura-Skoda declared the first movement among the most beautiful in piano literature. Popular it may be, but not easy: the simplicity and tender feeling within the first and second movements require restraint and deep expression. The last movement resembles a concerto finale, complete with cadenza.

 

We now know this Sonata was composed in 1783 - much later than originally thought. Mozart wrote it in Linz, while he and his wife stopped over on their way from Salzburg to Vienna. It is easy to imagine how the charming surroundings of Linz, with its picturesque buildings close to the Danube River, contributed to the sunny natured opening of this sonata, the peaceful slow movement, and the graceful ebullience of the finale.

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