MOZART: Violin Sonatas, K. 454 and K. 481
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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791): Violin Sonatas Vol.4
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in Salzburgin 1756, the son of a court musician who, in the year of his youngest child'sbirth, published an influential book on violin-playing. Leopold Mozart rose tooccupy the position of Vice-Kapellmeister to the Archbishop of Salzburg, butsacrificed his own creative career to that of his son, in whom he detectedsigns of precocious genius. With the indulgence of his patron, he was able toundertake extended concert tours of Europe in which his son and elder daughterNannerl were able to astonish audiences. The boy played both the keyboard andthe violin and could improvise and soon write down his own compositions.
The childhood that had brought Mozart signalsuccess was followed by a less satisfactory period of adolescence, largely inSalzburg under the patronage of a new and less sympathetic Archbishop. Like hisfather, Mozart found opportunities far too limited at home, while chances oftravel were now restricted. In 1777, when leave of absence was not granted, hegave up employment in Salzburg to seek a future elsewhere, but neither Mannheimnor Paris, both musical centres of some importance, had anything for him. HisMannheim connections, however, brought a commission for an opera in Munich in1781, but after its successful staging he was summoned by his patron to Vienna.
There Mozart's dissatisfaction with his position resulted in a quarrel with theArchbishop and dismissal from his service.
The last ten years of Mozart's life were spentin Vienna in precarious independence of both patron and immediate paternaladvice, a situation aggravated by an imprudent marriage. Initial success in theopera-house and as a performer was followed, as the decade went on, byincreasing financial difficulties. By the time of his death in December 1791,however, his fortunes seemed about to change for the better, with the successof the German opera Die Zauberflote (TheMagic Flute), and the possibility of increased patronage.
Mozart's sonatas for violin and keyboard spana period of some twenty-1ive years. His earliest attempts at the form were madeduring his first extended tour of Europe. Four of these early sonatas werepublished in Paris in 1764, two as Opus 1
and two as Opus 2, and a furtherset of six, Opus 3, was publishedin London the following year. There followed another set of six sonatas, Opus 4, written in The Hague in 1766 andpublished there and in Amsterdam in the same year. Mozart only returned to theform twelve years later. During his stay in Mannheim in 1777 and 1778 hecompleted four sonatas, to which he added a further two in Paris in the earlysummer of the latter year, publishing the set in Paris as Opus 1. Another group of six sonatas waspublished in Vienna in 1781. This included a sonata written in Mannheim andanother perhaps written in Salzburg. The other four of the set, which waspublished as Opus 2, were writtenin the summer of 1781 in Vienna. The four remaining comp1eted sonatas werewritten in Vienna between 1784 and 1788. While the Kochel numbers of thesesonatas provide easy identification, various systems of numbering the sonatasas a series have been used. There are over forty of these works and thenumbering used in the present series starts with the first of the maturesonatas written in Mannheim in 1778 and inc1udes only comp1eted sonatas afterthat date in its numbering.
The Sonatain B flat major, K.454 was entered by Mozart in his work-list withthe date 21st April1784. In a letter to his father three days later he reportsthe presence in Vienna of the Italian violinist Regina Strinasacchi of Mantua,praising the taste and feeling she shows in her performance. He adds that he iswriting a sonata for her, to be played at the theatre on the followingThursday, 29th April. The work was duly performed at the Karntnertor-Theater inthe presence of the Emperor, apparently without previous rehearsal and withonly the violin part written out, while Mozart played the keyboard from brief notes.
The work was fully written out later and was published in August of the sameyear, together with two keyboard sonatas. The set was dedicated to CountessTerese von Cobenzl, wife of the ambassador to Russia, by the publisher,Torricella. The sonata, written for a virtuosarather than for a pupil, opens with a slow introduction, after whichthe violin introduces the first subject in a movement in which violin andkeyboard are in equal partnership. Secondary material is introduced in aseamless texture, followed by a relatively short development that explores newkeys and rhythms and then a final recapitulation. The E flat major Andante allows the violin a gently lyricalmelody, then entrusted to the piano. The movement takes on a darker hue in thecentral section, before tension is relaxed in the return of the opening theme,delicately ornamented with new rhythmic figuration. The violin leads into thefinal Allegretto with a themethat frames a series of rondo episodes particularly rich in melodic invention.
These are subtly introduced, as are the returns of the main theme, with a finalsection of some brilliance, as the triplet quavers of the violin are answeredby the running semiquavers of the piano.
The Sonatain E flat major, K.481 is listed in Mozart's catalogue with the date12th December 1785. He included it in a list of his latest compositions sent inAugust 1786 to their old Salzburg man-servant Sebastian Winter, who, since1764, had been in the service of Josef Maria Benedikt, Prince von F??rstenberg.
Now in temporarily straitened circumstances, as we learn from a letter to thecomposer and publisher, Franz Hoffmeister, in the previous November, Mozartsuggests that Prince von F??rstenberg might like to pay him a regular annualsalary in return for new compositions for exclusive use at the court inDonaueschingen. The Prince sent for three piano concertos and three symphonies,but seemingly had no use for the sonata or, indeed, for a court composer in absentia. In the period in which thesonata was written Mozart was busy with his new opera Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage ofFigaro), given its first performance in Vienna on 1st May 1786. The firstmovement of the sonata, marked Moltoallegro, entrusts the first subject principa11y to the piano, a11owinga fuller share of the second subject to the violin, which generally has a lessdemanding r61e than in the preceding sonata. The development, with its shiftsof key, introduces a greater element of drama before the return of theprincipal theme in recapitulation. The same dramatic writing returns in thecoda. The A flat major Adagio findsthe violin offering at first an accompanin1ent to the piano melody .In whatfollows the violin assumes immediate prominence. The second theme, in D flatmajor but moving to C sharp minor, effects a transposition to the key of A,logically enough, if unexpectedly, for the returning first theme, before theoriginal key is restored for the recapitulation of the first and second themes,completing a movement of singular beauty .The last movement is in the form of atheme and variations. The theme itself is played by the violin and piano, theformer taking the melody an octave below the latter. The piano provides asemiquaver accompanin1ent to the violin variation of the theme and continueswith similar figuration in the second variation. The third variation bringsleft-hand semiquavers and right-hand chordal patterns for the piano, withviolin accompaniment. There are strong dynamic contrasts in the followingversion of the material and piano left-hand triplet semiquavers in the f