About this Recording
8.550612 - MOZART: Piano Variations, Vol. 2

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 - 1791)

Piano Variations Vol. 2
Zwölf Variationen in C über das französische Lied
"Ah vous dirai-je maman", K. 265 (300e)
(Twelve Variations in C on the French Song "Ah vous dirai-je maman")

Zwölf Variationen in Es über das franzosische Lied "La belle françoise", K.353 (300f)
(Twelve Variations in E Flat on the French Song "La belle françoise")

Neun Variationen in C über die Ariette "Lison dormait"
aus dem Singspiel "Julie" (Nicolas Dezède), K. 264 (315d)
(Nine Variations in C on the Arietta "Lison dormait" from the Play "Julie" by Nicolas Dezède)

Acht Variationen in F über das Chorstück "Dieu d'amour"
aus der Oper "Les mariages samnites" (André-Ernest-Modeste Grétry), K. 352 (374c)
(Eight Variations in F on the Chorus "Dieu d'amour" from the Opera "Les mariages samnites" by André-Ernest-Modeste Grétry)

Sechs Variationen in F über die Arie "Salve tu, Domine" aus der Oper "I filosofi immaginarii" (Giovanni Paisiello), K. 398 (416e)
(Six Variations in F on the Aria "Salve tu, Domine" from the Opera "I filosofi immaginarii" by Giovanni Paisiello)

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.

It is probable that the twelve variations on the French song "Ah vous dirai-je maman" were written in Paris in the summer of 1778, during Mozart's unprofitable stay in the French capital. The theme is well known in English-speaking countries as "Twinkle, twinkle, little star" and first appeared in France in 1761 with accompanying variations in a Paris publication Amusements d'une heure etdemi. By the 1770s it was enjoying popularity as a favourite subject for variation. Mozart states the theme in its simplest possible form, with a first variation in right-hand semiquavers and a second accompanied by left-hand semiquavers. Right-hand triplet arpeggios mark the third variation, with left-hand triplet arpeggios accompanying the theme in the fourth. There is syncopation in the fifth variation, running semiquavers in the sixth and seventh with a contrapuntal C minor version following. An element of contrapuntal imitation appears in the ninth variation, with hand-crossing for the melody in the tenth and an Adagio eleventh. The final version of the theme is accompanied by an Alberti bass.

Mozart's twelve variations on the song La belle françoise were probably written in the same summer. La belle françoise was a well known song in eighteenth century vaudeville repertoire, originating in the preceding century .The compound time theme is followed by a first variation ornamented in dotted rhythm and a second in which the theme appears first in the right hand and then in the left. The third variation is accompanied by triplet semiquavers, the fourth allows a brief cadenza and the fifth varies the theme in triplet semiquavers. The divided triads of the sixth variation lead to a seventh that makes use of octaves, an eighth using hand-crossing and a ninth in the tonic minor key. The tenth variation uses smaller note values, with the now customary penultimate Adagio, followed by a final Presto and a repetition of the theme.

Mozart's variations on the arietta "Lison dormait" were also written in Paris, at the end of August or in September 1778. The theme came from the Comédie mélée d'Ariettes "Julie" by Nicolas Dezède, a work first successfully staged at the Théâtre-Italien in Paris in 1772 and mounted again in August 1778, when Mozart presumably saw it. Dezède, variously known as Desaides and De Zaides, was of unknown parentage, but was supposedly the illegitimate son of a German prince, his name derived simply from the letters d and z, all he knew of his own ancestry. He won some reputation as a composer of pastoral opera in Paris, where he was known as the Orpheus of the Fields. The theme is followed by a variation of the melody which, in a second variation, is moved to the lower part. The third variation with its melodic additions leads to a fourth introduced by arpeggiated chords and making use of extended trills, to be followed by a variation in the tonic minor key and a sixth variation in octaves. The seventh variation opens with a fuller texture and is succeeded by a penultimate and highly embellished Adagio, a final Allegro and a repetition of the theme.

In March 1781 Mozart found himself in Vienna, summoned there by the Archbishop of Salzburg from Munich, where his commissioned opera Idomeneo had won success. In May came his final quarrel with his patron, followed by his dismissal into independence that seemed to offer opportunities otherwise denied him. His eight variations on the chorus "Dieu d'amour" (God of Love) from the opera Les mariages samnites by Grétry were written in Vienna in June. The opera had first been staged in Paris in 1776 and was given there in a revised version in 1782. It was not seen in Vienna until 1806. The theme used by Mozart was taken from a chorus of young girls in the first act, with the words "Dieu d'amour, en ce jour, viens avec Mars nous deffendre" and was probably known to Mozart during his time in Paris in 1778. The theme, with its dynamic contrasts, is followed by a simple melodic variation, a second version with an Alberti bass, a third using octaves and a fourth set against a continuing trill. The fifth variation is in the tonic minor key, with a sixth involving the crossing of hands. The penultimate variation is an embellished Adagio, with a final Allegro to end the set.

The Neapolitan composer Giovanni Paisiello enjoyed a very considerable international reputation. From 1776 he was in St. Petersburg as maestro di cappella to Catherine the Great, returning to Italy by way of Vienna in the summer of 1784. His opera I filosofi immaginarii (The Imaginary Philosophers) or Gli astrologi (The Astrologers) was first staged in St. Petersburg in 1779, followed by a staging in Paris in 1780 under the title Le philosophe imaginaire and a German version in Vienna in May 1781. The Italian version was staged in Vienna in October 1783. In a letter to his father on 29th March 1783 Mozart gives an account of a concert he had given six days earlier in the presence of the Emperor, including variations on an air from Die Philosophen and variations on a theme from Gluck's Pilgrimme von Mekka. The dog Latin words of the song refer to the character Architophontidas, "Salve tu Domine, Argatifontidas tibi salutem mittit per me". After the theme the first variation uses arpeggiated triads, followed by a syncopated version, a third variation of fuller texture, a fourth in the tonic minor key and a fifth set against continuing trills ending in a cadenza. The sixth variation has a more extended and elaborate cadenza, marked Capriccio, ending with a less elaborate statement of the theme in the original tempo.

Francesco Nicolosi
Francesco Nicolosi was born in Catania in 1954 and studied first at the Liceo Musicale Vincenzo Bellini in his native city, taking lessons from Giovanna Ferro and later from Vincenzo Vitale in Naples, where he now lives. A prize-winner in 1980 at the Santander International Competition and, in the same month, in Geneva, where his performance of Mozart's D minor Piano Concerto won the praise of Clara Haskil, he has since secured a reputation as one of the most interesting young pianists of his generation. He has performed in the concert hall with leading orchestras and in chamber music has partnered the distinguished Korean cellist Myung Wha Chung. His first compact disc recording, in 1984, was devoted to transcriptions of Bellini by Liszt and Thalberg. In 1988 he gave the first performance in Italy of Thalberg's F minor Piano Concerto. For Marco Polo he has recorded the complete Italian operatic paraphrases of Thalberg, on four compact discs.

Close the window