|About this Recording
8.550611 - MOZART: Piano Variations, Vol. 1
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 - 1791 )
Piano Variations Vol. 1
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in Salzburg in 1756, the youngest and second surviving child of Leopold Mozart, author of a well known treatise on violin-playing and a musician in the service of the ruling Archbishop. Leopold Mozart was to sacrifice his own career in order to foster the God-given genius he soon perceived in his son. A childhood spent in successful tours throughout Europe, in which the young Mozart demonstrated his skill on the violin, and on the keyboard in improvisation and in performance with his sister Nannerl. There were later visits to Italy and commissioned operas, but adolescence principally at home in Salzburg proved less satisfactory. Mozart's talent was none the less, but there seemed little opportunity at home, particularly after the death of the old Archbishop and the succession of a less indulgent patron. In 1777 Mozart and his father, now Vice-Kapellmeister, were refused leave to travel, and Mozart himself resigned his position as Konzertmeister of the court orchestra and set out, accompanied only by his mother, to seek his fortune elsewhere. The journey took him to Augsburg, to Munich and eventually to Paris, but only after a prolonged stay in Mannheim, the seat of the Elector Palatine, famous for its musical establishment.
In Mannheim Mozart made many friends among the musicians at court, but neither here nor in any of the other places he visited was there a suitable position for him. The following year, after the death of his mother in Paris, he made his way slowly back to Salzburg, where his father had found him another position at court that he retained until 1781, when he found final precarious independence in Vienna, after a quarrel with the Archbishop during the course of a visit to the imperial capital. The following year he married the penniless younger sister of a singer on whom he had first set his heart in Mannheim and won initial success with his German opera Die Entführung aus dem Serail. There were pupils and subscription concerts, and chances to arouse the admiration of fashionable audiences by his skill as composer and keyboard-player in a new series of piano concertos. By the end of the decade, however, his popularity had waned, although there were signs of a change of fortune in the success of a new German opera, Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute), which was still running at the time of his sudden death in December 1791.
Variations on a given theme had long been among the most popular forms of music and the surviving cycles of keyboard variations by Mozart remained among the most frequently played of his compositions in the century that followed his death. These sets of variations followed the current general practice of varying the melody over harmonies that remained largely the same. The earliest surviving composition of this type by Mozart was written when he was ten, the last in the year of his death, and throughout his life there were opportunities for improvised variations, a necessary element in the career of a performer and composer.
The F major Theme and Variations, K. 54, a work written relatively late in Mozart's life, a year after the death of Leopold Mozart in Salzburg, must have been composed after 10th July 1788, the date of Mozart's F major Violin Sonata, K. 547, where the theme is used for a set of identical variations, with a violin accompaniment that seems generally optional. The fourth variation of the set for piano is generally regarded as spurious. The cycle includes a penultimate version in the tonic minor key and a final variation in rapid demisemiquavers.
25 years earlier, in June 1763, the Mozart family had set out from Salzburg on an extended tour of Europe, visiting first the principal cities of South Germany and the Rhineland, then Brussels, Paris and finally London, where they remained for eighteen months. This was followed by a stay during the winter of 1765-66 in Holland. With a letter to his Salzburg landlord and banker Lorenz Hagenauer Leopold Mozart enclosed some of his son's compositions, one of them a set of keyboard variations written on a theme for the celebration of the majority and installation of the Prince of Orange at The Hague on 8th March and a second set written hurriedly on the old Dutch anthem William of Nassau, a melody that everyone in Holland, according to Leopold Mozart, was singing, playing and whistling. In a later reproachful letter to his errant son in 1778 he reminded him of the time when he would sing to his father at bed-time the nonsense words "Oragna fiagata fa marina gamina fa" to this tune. In 1766, however, the father could only be proud of the boy's achievement, evidence of which he asks Hagenauer to offer to the Archbishop of Salzburg. The first set of variations is based on a song written by the Kapellmeister to Prince William of Orange, Christian Ernst Graaf, in celebration of the majority and installation of the Prince. The theme is followed by a simple melodic variation, a second version with elements of syncopation, a third in triplet rhythm and a fourth in shorter note values. The fifth variation uses dotted rhythms, the sixth syncopation and the seventh the elaboration suitable for an Adagio. The last variation presents the theme over an Alberti bass. The William of Nassau variations open with the theme followed by a variation embellished with passing notes, a second in syncopation, a third in semiquavers, a fourth in dotted rhythm and a fifth an ornamented Adagio. The sixth variation divides the labour between the two hands and the seventh presents the melody over a semiquaver bass.
The first years of the new decade brought journeys to Italy, honours and commissions, but no prospect of suitable employment away from Salzburg. In the summer of 1773 Leopold Mozart and his son took advantage of the absence of the new Archbishop from Salzburg to travel to Vienna, in the hope of attracting interest at court. There Mozart wrote a set of string quartets and in the autumn, before their return home, a set of variations on "Mio caro Adone" (My dear Adonis) from the Finale of the opera La fieradi Venezia (The Proud Woman of Venice) by the court opera composer Antonio Salieri, a work that had been staged first in Vienna in January 1772. It enjoyed considerable success throughout Europe and was staged some thirty times during Salieri's life-time. Leopold Mozart saw the piece in Salzburg in 1785, but found nothing good in it, describing it as "erzdumme welsche Kinderey" (stupid foreign childishness). The Minuet theme, marked Andante, is followed by a quaver variation, a second in triplets and a third in semiquavers. The fourth has chromatic decoration, followed by a fifth Adagio and a final Allegretto.
The Twelve Variations on a Minuet by Johann Christian Fischer, German oboist and composer and a son-in-law of Gainsborough in London, acquainted with the Mozarts from their stay in The Hague in 1765, were written by December 1774, presumably in Salzburg. The theme itself, described as Menuet de Mr. Fischer a Rondeau, was taken from Fischer's Favourite Concerto for the Hoboy or German Flute, published in London in 1768 and was possibly known to Mozart through a keyboard arrangement by Fischer's friend and colleague in London, Johann Christian Bach. The theme is simply embellished in the first variation, with a second allowing some imitation between right and left hands. A third variation in triplets, a fourth in semiquavers and a fifth with arpeggiated chords over a triplet rhythm bass are followed by a sixth over an Alberti bass. An arpeggio opening extends the range of the seventh variation, followed by a syncopated eighth, a ninth with hand-crossing and a tenth in octaves lead to an Adagio and a concluding Allegro.
In 1778 Mozart was in Paris, determined to show the French that he was not just a stupid German, while similarly intolerant himself of the French. His variations on "Jesuis Lindor" made use of a theme by the composer and violinist Antoine Laurent Baudron, leader and director of the orchestra of the Comédie-Française and composer and arranger of stage music, including collaboration with Beaumarchais in music for Le barbier de Séville (The Barber of Seville) and later for Le mariage de Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro). "Je suis Lindor" (I am Lindor) is the second couplet of the Count's song, in which he declares in a serenade to his beloved Rosina his assumed identity. The theme is followed by a semiquaver first variation, a second over a running bass and a third with an ornamented upper part. There is hand-crossing in the fourth variation, octave treatment of the theme in the fifth, an octave bass in the sixth and a seventh with opening arpeggiated chords. The eighth variation is fuller in texture, followed by a slower E flat minor version of the melody and a tenth and eleventh that make use of octave demisemiquavers in the upper and lower registers respectively. The elaborately embellished twelfth variation is marked Molto adagio e cantabile and leads to the re-appearance of the original theme.
Close the window