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8.557665 - MOZART: Violin Sonatas, Vol. 6
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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Violin Sonatas, Volume 6

 

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in Salzburg in 1756, the son of a court musician who, in the year of his youngest child's birth, published an influential book on violin-playing. Leopold Mozart rose to occupy the position of Vice-Kapellmeister to the Archbishop of Salzburg, but sacrificed his own creative career to that of his son, in whom he detected early signs of precocious genius. With the indulgence of his patron, he was able to undertake extended concert tours of Europe in which his son and elder daughter Nannerl were able to astonish audiences. The boy played both the keyboard and the violin and could improvise and soon write down his own compositions.

Childhood that had brought Mozart signal success was followed by a less satisfactory period of adolescence largely in Salzburg under the patronage of a new and less sympathetic Archbishop. Like his father, Mozart found opportunities far too limited at home, while chances of travel were now restricted. In 1777, when leave of absence was not granted, he gave up employment in Salzburg to seek a future elsewhere, but neither Mannheim nor Paris, both musical centres of some importance, had anything for him. His Mannheim connections, however, brought a commission for an opera in Munich in 1781, 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 the Archbishop and another dismissal from his service.

The last ten years of Mozart's life were spent in Vienna in precarious independence of both patron and immediate paternal advice, a situation aggravated by an imprudent marriage. Initial success in the opera-house and as a performer was followed, as the decade went on, by increasing financial difficulties. By the time of his death in December 1791, however, his fortunes seemed about to change for the better, with the success of the German opera The Magic Flute, and the possibility of increased patronage.

Mozart's sonatas for violin and keyboard span a period of some twenty-five years. His earliest attempts at the form were made during his first extended tour of Europe. Four of these early sonatas were published in Paris in 1764, two as Opus 1 and two as Opus 2, and a further set of six, Opus 3, was published in London the following year. There followed another set of six sonatas, Opus 4, written in The Hague in 1766 and published there and in Amsterdam in the same year. Mozart only returned to the form twelve years later. During his stay in Mannheim in 1777 and 1778 he completed four sonatas, to which he added a further two in Paris in the early summer of the latter year, publishing the set in Paris as Opus 1. Another group of six sonatas was published in Vienna in 1781. This included a sonata written in Mannheim and another perhaps written in Salzburg. The other four of the set, which was published as Opus 2, were written in the summer of 1781 in Vienna. The four remaining completed sonatas were written in Vienna between 1784 and 1788. While the Köchel numbers of these sonatas provide easy identification, various systems of numbering the sonatas as a series have been used. There are over forty of these works and the numbering used in the present series starts with the first of the mature sonatas written in Mannheim in 1778 and includes only completed sonatas after that date in its numbering.

The Six Variations on the French Song 'Au bord d'une fontaine' ('Hélas, j'ai perdu mon amant'), K. 360, were written in Vienna in June 1781. It seems probable that Mozart wrote these variations for his piano pupil Countess Maria Karolina Thiennes de Rumbeke, née Cobenzl. In May he had secured his dismissal from the service of the Archbishop of Salzburg and was immediately seeking to make use of his new independence. In a letter of 20 June 1781 to his father he mentions in conclusion the fact that he is busy composing variations for his pupil, possibly including the present work, although he wrote two other sets of variations in the same month. The Countess, the daughter of Count Johann Karl Philipp Cobenzl, minister plenipotentiary for the Austrian Netherlands, and wife of Count Thiennes et Rumbeke, a chamberlain at the court in Vienna, had engaged Mozart as a teacher very soon after the latter's arrival in Vienna in March. A near contemporary of Mozart, she became known for great proficiency on the piano, celebrated for accuracy, taste and speed, Präzision, Geschmack und Geschwindigkeit, in the words of the Jahrbuch der Kunst von Wien und Prag of 1796. The theme for this second set of variations, like that for the Twelve Variations on 'La Bergère Célimène', K. 359 (Naxos 8.557664), is taken from a collection of French songs published in Paris by Antoine Albanèse, a French castrato and composer of Italian origin. The song is correctly entitled 'Au bord d'une fontaine'. The G minor theme, marked Andantino, is stated by the piano, with violin accompaniment, a procedure followed in the first variation. The second gives the theme to the violin and the third has a fuller piano part. The fourth variation offers triplet figuration, the fifth a G major version of the theme and the sixth a violin melody with a more elaborate piano accompaniment.

Mozart wrote his Andante and Fugue of a Sonata in A major, K. 402, (Sonata No. 29) in August or September 1782. He had married Constanze Weber on 4 August, and seems to have set about writing a series of violin sonatas for his wife. His interest in the music of Bach and Handel had been stimulated through Baron van Swieten and in April 1782 he had written to his father telling him how every Sunday at midday he went to the Baron's, where music by Sebastian Bach was played, as well as works by Carl Philipp Emanuel and Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, explaining his wife's fondness for fugues, which she begged him to write. Whether this reflects Constanze's true taste in music, it is clear that Mozart wanted to present her to his family in the best possible light, having married her without the approval of his father and with no perceptible advantage to his career. The Andante, ma un poco adagio, with its marked resemblance to the well-known Minuet in Don Giovanni, is started by the piano in material later shared with the violin, before the piano offers a secondary theme and a dominant version of the opening. A concluding section offers shifts of key before the violin announces the subject of the A minor Fugue, Handelian in style and making use of various contrapuntal techniques in its working. The Andante, unfinished in the surviving autograph, was completed by the Abbé Maximilian Stadler, who helped Constanze Mozart deal with her husband's music after the latter's death, and who may well have had a hand in the fugue.

Stadler also completed the Sonata in C major, K. 403, (Sonata No. 30) another composition of August or September 1782 that Mozart had not finished, providing much of the third movement. The sonata again belongs to the group of works for violin and piano that Mozart wrote for his wife and the surviving autograph bears the words 'Sonate Premiere. Par moi W: A: Mozart pour ma très chère épouse', possibly, it has been suggested, never intended for publication. Stadler's completed version was eventually published in 1830 as Sonate facile. The piano has the first subject in the opening Allegro moderato, then entrusted to the violin, and secondary material duly modulates to the key of the dominant, with the briefest of transitions before the varied recapitulation. In the F major Andante the piano is answered by the violin, with rôles later reversed, before the final Allegretto, of which Mozart wrote only the first twenty bars, supplemented by 124 bars added by Stadler, who develops the opening figure into a full sonata movement.

Mozart entered his Sonata in B flat major, K. 570, into his list of compositions in February 1789, describing it as 'Eine Sonate auf klavier allein'. It was published posthumously in Vienna in 1796 by Artaria as 'Sonata per il Clavicembalo o Piano-Forte con l'accompagnamento d'un Violino' and was known for a long time in this form. The arrangement for violin and piano, in which the violin either offers an accompaniment or doubles the piano melody, has been variously credited, but is no longer supposed to be the work of Mozart. It opens with a sonata-form movement, its second subject formed by an addition to the opening figure of the first. This is followed by an E flat major Andante, its first section serving to frame two intermezzi, the first in C minor and the second in A flat major. The sonata, Mozart's penultimate work in this form, ends with a rondo.

Keith Anderson


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