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8.550613 - MOZART: Piano Variations, Vol. 3

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 - 1791)

Piano Variations Vol. 3
Zehn Variationen in G über die Ariette "Unser dummer Pöbel meint"
aus dem Singspiel "Die Pilgrime von Mekka" (Christoph Willibald Gluck), K. 455
Ten Variations in G on the Arietta "Unser dummer Pöbel meint" from the Singspiel "Die Pilgrime von Mekka" by Christoph Willibald Gluck)

Zwölf Variationen in B Flat über ein Allegretto, K. 500
(Twelve Variations in B Flat on an Allegretto)

Neun Variationen in D über ein Menuett von Jean Pierre Duport, K. 573
(Nine Variations in D on a Minuet by Jean Pierre Duport)

Acht Variationen in F über das Lied "Ein Weib ist das herrlichste Ding" aus dem Singspiel "Der dumme Gärtner"
(Benedikt Schack? oder Franz Gerl), K. 613
(Eight Variations on the Song "Ein Weib ist das herrlichste Ding" from the Singspiel "Der dumme Gärtner" by Benedikt Schack? with Franz Gerl)

Acht Variationen in A über die Arie "Come un'agnello" aus der Oper "Fra i due litiganti" (Giuseppe Sarti), K. 460 (454a)
(Eight Variations in A on the Aria "Come un agnello" from the Opera "Fra i due litiganti" by Giuseppe Sarti

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.

Gluck's Comédie mélée d'ariettes Les Pèlerins de Mecque (The Pilgrims of Mecca), otherwise La rencontre imprévue (The Unexpected Meeting), was first staged at the Burgtheater in Vienna in 1764. A German version followed in 1776 with a new staging in July 1780. The air "Unser dummer Pöbel meint" (Our simple people believe) is for the comic bass Calender. The ten completed variations by Mozart are dated 25th August 1784 and follow an earlier unfinished set of variations. The straightforward Singspiel theme is followed by a melodic variation in semiquavers and a second variation with a semiquaver accompaniment. The third variation is in triplet rhythm, the fourth introduced by the theme in left-hand octaves and the fifth in the tonic minor key, exploring a low register of the keyboard. Trills accompany the theme in the sixth variation, with chromatic harmonies in the seventh and crossing of hands in the eighth, with its final cadenza leading to an elaborately ornamented Adagio. The tenth variation starts ingenuously enough but leads to an extended cadenza, the re-appearance of the theme and a final exercise in virtuoso hand-crossing in the lowest register of the keyboard.

Mozart's twelve variations on an Allegretto, K. 500, carries the date 12th September 1786, the year of the opera Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro). The gavotte theme chosen is of unknown origin, but was presumably not by Mozart. The cheerful theme is melodically varied first in triplets, then in semiquavers. The fourth variation uses an Alberti bass, with a poignant fifth version, a sixth in Alberti type figuration and a seventh in the tonic minor key. A delicate eighth variation of increasing volume leads to the scales of a ninth and a tenth with its share of hand-crossing, its final cadenza followed by a relatively simple Adagio. The Allegro twelfth variation is capped by the re-appearance of the theme itself.

In the spring of 1789 Mozart accompanied Prince Karl Lichnowsky on a journey to Berlin and the Prussian court at Potsdam, seat of King Wilhelm Friedrich II, nephew of Frederick the Great and an enthusiastic amateur cellist. Mozart no doubt hoped for some position at court or at least something that might prove to his material advantage. He was well enough received by the king, although the director of the royal chamber music and cello teacher of the king, the French composer and cellist Jean-Pierre Duport, regarded him with some suspicion. The variations that Mozart wrote at Potsdam on a Minuet from Duport's Sixth Cello Sonata might have proved flattering to Duport and pleasing to the king, whose favourite melody this seems to have been. After the statement of the theme there is a melodic variation in semiquavers, followed by a version in which the running semiquavers appear in the lower part. There is use of arpeggios in the third variation, triplets in the fourth and a fifth that leads to a sixth in the tonic minor key. The seventh variation makes use of octaves, the eighth is an ornamented Adagio, while the ninth has a brief cadenza leading to a restatement of the theme itself.

Mozart's variations on the song "Ein Weib ist das herrlichste Ding" (A wife is the most glorious thing) were written between 8th March and 12th April 1791. The theme was taken from a musical play by Schikaneder, author of Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute), and an actor-manager of considerable reputation. The music for the play was the work of Benedikt Schack, a member of Schikaneder's company and creator of the role of Tamino, and Franz Xaver Gerl, creator of the role of Sarastro. Schack and Gerl collaborated on a popular series of Singspiel on the character of der dumme Anton (stupid Anton), in the tradition of the farcical Viennese Hanswurst. Der dumme Gärtner (The Stupid Gardner), apparently Gerl's first collaboration with Schack for Schikaneder and a sequel to the first of the Anton pieces, was staged at the Vienna Freihaus on 12th July 1789. The first variation that follows the statement of the theme is relatively simple, followed by elaborations in the second and third, the last with its passages of octaves. The fourth variation makes use of an Alberti bass and the fifth opens with brief canonic imitation, leading to a sixth that soon moves into the tonic minor. The seventh variation opens in octaves, proceeding to an embellished Adagio. The final Allegro leads to the re-appearance of the original theme.

The cycle of eight variations on the aria "Come un'agnello" (Like a lamb) from the opera Fra i due litiganti il terzo gode (While Two Quarrel the Third Enjoys) by Giuseppe Sarti, for long employed at the Danish court and later a successor to Paisiello at the court of Catherine the Great, was written in the summer of 1784. The opera in question was first staged in Milan in 1782 and is based on a play by Goldoni which has some resemblance in its plot to Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro). It proved immensely popular in Vienna, where by 1790 it had received sixty performances. Two variations on the chosen theme are the work of Mozart, with the set completed by another composer following the style of Mozart, but generally excluded by scholars from the Mozart canon.

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.

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