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8.571300 - MOZART, W.A.: Fantasia in C Minor / Piano Sonatas Nos. 11 and 14 (Biret Archive Edition, Vol. 15)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791)
Fantasia in C minor, K 475 • Piano Sonata No 14b in C minor, K 457 • Piano Sonata No 11 in A major, K 331


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 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.

The later eighteenth century brought, among many other technical developments, a change in keyboard instruments in domestic and concert use. The harpsichord was gradually replaced by the fortepiano, with its hammer action and increased dynamic range. The instruments Mozart used, particularly during his final decade in Vienna, were capable of the most delicate articulation, more limited in range than the modern pianoforte, but representing the highest technical achievement of makers such as Stein and Walter, the former of whom, who had experimented with a coupled fortepiano-cum-harpsichord, made for Mozart a pedal fortepiano, valued in Mozart’s estate at eighty florins, less than a third of his outstanding tailor’s bill.

It is not only in its choice of key that Mozart’s Fantasia in C minor, K 475, recalls his great Piano Concerto in C minor. It was entered in his catalogue of compositions on 20 May 1785. Its publication by Artaria on 5 December of the same year announces a Fantaisie et Sonata pour le Fortepiano and is dedicated to Madame Therese de Trattnern, the wife of Mozart’s then landlord in Vienna. The Fantasia, at least, seems to have formed part of the composer’s programme at his concert in Leipzig on 12 May 1789, an event that brought acclaim but little material profit. It would seem that Mozart intended the coupling of the Fantasia with the Sonata in C minor, K 457, which he entered in his catalogue on 14 October 1784, as is apparent from the musical connection between the two pieces.

The Fantasia, suggesting something of Mozart’s keyboard improvisations, starts with a dramatic Adagio, leading through various shifts of key to an Allegro, a B flat Andantino and a conclusion that returns to the key and material of the opening. The following sonata opens with the ascending notes of the C minor triad, the thematic material worked out in tripartite sonata-form. The E flat major second movement, marked Adagio, has a principal theme that lends itself to operatic elaboration. The final Allegro assai remains in C minor, avoiding the conventional conclusion in the tonic major key. It explores the lower range of the keyboard and the possibilities of dynamic contrast, while introducing pauses that increase the inherent drama of the movement. The principal theme of the rondo is used to frame contrasting episodes.

The Sonata in A major, K 331, belongs to a brighter world and is among the best known of Mozart’s keyboard sonatas. Its first theme has even found its way into orchestral repertoire in Max Reger’s monumental Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Mozart, while the final Alla Turca has enticed many a novice and was even used by Mozart’s friend Stephen Storace in his pasticcio opera The Siege of Belgrade, staged in London in 1791. The sonata was written either in Vienna or in Salzburg in 1783 and published by Artaria the following year. The first movement starts with a gently lilting theme, followed by six variations, the third in A minor, the fourth with hand-crossing, the fifth an Adagio and the sixth an Allegro. The second movement is a Minuet, with a D major Trio, and the third the famous Rondo alla Turca, a form of popular exoticism that bears little relation to the kind of music once familiar in Vienna from Janissary bands.

Keith Anderson

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