Text of the booklet "W.A.Mozart. SONATAS FOR PIANO & VIOLIN"
‘The sonata is a musical conversation or reproduction of a human conversation using inanimate instruments.’
Christian Friedrich Daniel Schubart, ‘Ideen zu einer Asthetik der Tonkunst’
Mozart was six when he began writing his first violin sonata in 1762 and the last appeared in 1788, the same year as Symphonies No.39 to 41. In all Mozart produced more than thirty sonatas for violin. His modus operandi for composing these ‘musical conversations’ is in keeping with our image of Mozart as a carefree genius who created as the birds sing: often the sonatas seemed to appear spontaneously, in between his other activities. On February 14th 1778 the composer was in Mannheim working on a commission for flute quartets and concertos when he wrote to his father: ‘As you know, it is very tedious when I have to keep writing for the same instrument (especially one that I dislike). From time to time I have been composing other works for the sake of variety – duets for clavier and violin.’ This refers to the opus including the E Minor Sonata (KV 304) and D Major Sonata (KV 306), which feature in the present recording.
Both compositions date from an eventful period in Mozart’s life. They were written in Paris during the early summer of 1778 (the manuscript describes the earlier of the two as ‘Sonata IV a Paris’). In the same year the composer travelled extensively in search of a suitable position. Admittedly this ended in reconciliation with Archbishop Colloredo and his return to Salzburg, but Mozart himself acknowledged that the journey provided valuable experience that he used for later compositions. Moreover, the situation in which the twenty-two-year-old musician found himself obliged Mozart to think seriously about his career. He wrote to his father in Salzburg: ‘All I ask in Salzburg is that I am no longer tied to the violin. I won’t be a violinist any more. I want to conduct from the clavier and accompany arias’; ‘I am a composer and destined to be a Kapellmeister. I have no right to bury the talent as a composer which the gracious Lord has so generously lavished on me. I can say this without false modesty, I am more aware of this than ever … I would prefer, let us say, to pass up the clavier for the sake of composition. To me the clavier is a secondary but, thank God, very important secondary pursuit.’
That year brought many new impressions and even more emotional upsets. In Mannheim Mozart was to fall in love with Aloysia Weber (elder sister of his future wife), which met with bitter disapproval from his father, while in Paris he lived as a free artist and worked for the Concerts spirituels and the Paris Opera ballet, although calamity struck when his mother died there.
The G Major Sonata (KV 379) was composed in April 1781, on the eve of his final rupture with the archbishop. Until that moment Mozart was morally prepared to stay in Vienna, even without permanent employment: his reputation as an outstanding pianist promised auspicious concert appearances and well-heeled students.
There is no record of a first performance of all three sonatas, since they were intended for private rather than public concerts (and hence the published scores were quickly snapped up by hordes of amateur musicians). Mozart in fact wrote the violin sonatas expecting immediate publication. For example, in Paris he finished the collection of six sonatas KV 301 to 306 that he had begun in Mannheim and immediately submitted the manuscript to the engraver Johann Georg Sieber, with an advance of 15 Louis d’or. The collection was issued as Opus 1, with a dedication to Elisabeth Augusta, wife of the Elector of the Palatinate and Bavaria (although Mozart’s first violin sonatas had already appeared in 1764 as Op.1, such oversights being a frequent occurrence).
The G Major Sonata numbered Op.2 No.5 was published in November 1781 as one of the ‘Six sonatas for fortepiano with accompaniment of violin by the famous and celebrated Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’, with a dedication to the pianist Josepha Barbara von Auernhammer. This was the first issue of the composer’s music in Vienna, by the well-known Artaria publishers. The sonatas were received very favourably and republished in Amsterdam and London during Mozart’s lifetime. On April 4th 1783 an anonymous reviewer wrote in the Hamburg journal Magazin der Musik: ‘These sonatas are the only ones of their kind. They are rich with the new ideas and characteristics of the great musical genius that composed them, and also correspond to the instrument in brilliant fashion. At the same time the violin accompaniment is so skilfully matched to the clavier part that both instruments constantly attract the listener’s attention, and these sonatas demand a similarly accomplished performer on the violin as much as on the clavier. But it is impossible to give a full description of this original work. Music lovers and connoisseurs must first play the sonatas themselves, then they will feel certain we have made no exaggeration.’
Obviously, at that time nothing untoward could be seen in the words ‘with accompaniment of violin’. On the contrary, the reviewer acknowledges that the violin part represented a significant innovation. The tradition still continued from usage of the figured bass: the keyboard part provided the groundwork, the violin part the ornamentation. Austrian violins of that period with their limited dynamic resources were better suited for this role in an ensemble, while the delicate upper register of Mozart’s fortepiano, in its turn, presupposed an equally gentle sound from the string instrument. Although Mozart came close to the idea of equal dialogue between two partners, as a rule the initiative belongs to the piano. Clearly the composer saw himself at the keyboard in this ensemble, although he was equally proficient playing either instrument.
Chamber music from this epoch was dominated by the ‘galant’ style, following the etiquette of a pleasant gentlemanly conversation with an element of affectation (for a deeper and more detailed examination, see Part 3 of Larisa Valentinovna Kirillina’s Classical Style in 18th- to Early 19th-Century Music). Nevertheless, in the sonatas presented here Mozart often abandons the ‘galant’ in favour of a sombre and passionate ‘pathetique’. This is less applicable to the D Major Sonata conceived as a magnificent, positive conclusion to the ‘Mannheim-Paris’ set. A prototype was provided by the heroic music of the Mannheim school, and this aristocratic gallantry finds expression in the virtuosity of the keyboard part. In some respects the sonata exceeds the limitations of chamber music and moves closer to a concerto: the opening bars of the Allegro con spirito are reminiscent of orchestral tutti. The first movement of the sonata is constructed from the classical combination of heroic style, lyricism and humour, and the agitation in the reprise only increases, justifying the indication ‘con spirito’.
An Andantino cantabile in the form of a slow, ceremonial minuet opens with the ‘motif of stepwise ascent’, which subsequently acquired great importance in Mozart’s masonic music. The grandeur in the music of the second movement calls to mind Beethoven’s adagios. In the development the performers beautifully emphasise the effect of chiaroscuro, while the accentuation of dissonant sounds is treated in a capricious and comic manner.
The concerto style returns in the finale: the tempo and time signature alter several times, as in Mozart’s violin concertos. Moreover this movement is embellished by a long piano cadenza with violin participation. Since this is played without excessive haste, we can compare the timbre of the various octaves on the fortepiano. This instrument may sound rather strange and antiquated to the modern ear, but for the great composer’s contemporaries it was new, an innovation that was still being perfected.
Today the E Minor Sonata is one of the most popular by virtue of its dramatic tension, laconism, heightened sensitivity to the point of fervour and the long, melodious themes. All these qualities characteristic of classical music in the ‘Sturm und Drang’ period were highly appreciated in the epoch of Romanticism and still valued to this day. The sonata inspired Hermann Abert, who specialised in Mozart’s musical legacy, to write a truly romantic panegyric: ‘Such profoundly tragic sounds as those in the E Minor Violin Sonata (KV 304) have not been heard in Mozart’s oeuvre for a long time. Was it the memory of his anguish in Mannheim that overwhelmed him, or is this a manifestation of his loneliness in a hostile foreign town? Throughout the sonata … every bar is instilled with fervent emotion.
‘The first movement is a constant battle between weary disappointment and unbridled obstinacy; Mozart could scarcely have written more savage unisons or sharper syncopations. In the development … disappointment finally subsides into quiet sobs until the ominous, demonic unison again drives his music to a horrid shriek, heralding the reprise …
‘In the second movement … the mood is softened and turns to sorrow, but nearer to the end we discover the bellicose spirits of old are by no means dead and buried. A piercing and unusually passionate motif follows in the coda, and a short, convulsive upsurge completes a piece that clearly, in a form unconcealed by deviation, expresses the development of formidable and deeply pessimistic emotions that are truly Mozartian. Only once does a bright beam of light illuminate this dire picture – in the enchanting E major trio, which assumes the role of the one joyful vision in the entire piece.’
The sonata in two movements with a minuet as finale follows the French model, but sharply breaks away from the ‘galant’ style. Like an idee fixe the main theme of the Allegro keeps returning: as the exposition ends, at the beginning of the development, twice in the reprise and finally in the coda too, which is very atypical for Mozart. This is no polite exchange where etiquette dictates varied subject matter and personal emotions should be kept in check. Initially the development follows the required protocol: the second half of the exposition repeatedly strives to dispel feelings of melancholy. But the frequent return of the main theme, towards the end of the movement reminiscent of Mozartian ‘fate motifs’, finally quashes these attempts.
The French sonata as suite also influences the form of the third work in this recording, where every movement is written in G major or minor. Mozart particularly favoured G minor, common to both of his minor-key symphonies (Nos.25 and 40). In the work already cited Schubart characterised the semantics of this key as follows: ‘discontent, uneasiness, regret over unfulfilled plans, gloomy lip-biting, in short – chagrin and complaint’.
The G Major Sonata has much in common with the E Minor Sonata – deep pessimism, the suffering of the sensitive soul, a sense of fatal inevitability, although Mozart extends his reach beyond these characteristics. In concept the sonata is entirely new, and the compositional arrangement is unique. The first movement (Adagio) is written in the manner of an exalted hymn filled with heavenly grace. However, this image is incomplete in the sonata: the emerging sonata form breaks off in mid-development and, following the logic of fantasy, changes to a minor-key Allegro without pause. Essentially this is a dramatic minuet permeated by the unending and almost intrusive repetition of the future Beethoven ‘fate motif’, which Larisa Kirillina also refers to as the ‘motif of the rhetorical question’.
In the finale of the sonata we are provided with an extremely enigmatic answer. The finale is cast in the form of a theme and variations and the theme itself, as presented by both instruments, brings conciliation. But like the divine grace of the first movement, this is soon rejected! Even the first variation assigned to the keyboard alone presents a radical transformation of the theme, overshadowed by modulations in the minor key. These modulations are preserved throughout all five variations as the music is gradually filled with a passionate ‘pathetique’ that was not originally present in the theme. In the fourth (minor) variation the ‘fate motif’ unexpectedly returns from the Allegro.
The main theme returns after a slow fifth variation in which the violin pizzicato accompanies the richly ornamented piano melody. Paradoxically, according to Mozart’s instructions this should be played Allegretto rather than Andante cantabile, meaning faster, with increased vivacity and a demonstratively lighthearted disregard of everything that preceded it for the entire five variations. In the present recording, however, Alexandra Nepomnyashchaya and Sergei Filchenko present a different interpretation: the theme is performed sedately, in the original tempo and without excessive levity.
Anna Bulycheva, translation by Patricia Donegan
Text of the booklet "W.A.Mozart. SONATAS FOR PIANO & VIOLIN"