About this Recording
8.554769 - MOZART: London Sketchbook

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

London Sketchbook, K15a-ss (Realised by Hans-Udo Kreuels)

On 9th June 1763 the Mozart family set off on a grand tour of Europe, returning to Salzburg after nearly three-and-a-half years’ absence. Their journey took them as far afield as London where the Mozarts stayed for some fifteen months. There the young Wolfgang met Johann Christian Bach, whose music exerted a profound influence on him, and he played, with his sister Nannerl, to audiences ranging from the King and his immediate family to the fashionable set who frequented the celebrated Ranelagh Pleasure Gardens. During these years of travel Mozart absorbed a bewildering range of new musical styles and made rapid progress as a composer. As early as May 1764, a few weeks after their arrival in London, Leopold Mozart wrote: "What he knew when we left Salzburg is a mere shadow compared with what he knows now. It exceeds all that one can imagine"; and on 8th June he proudly observed: "My boy knows in this his eighth year what one would expect only from a man of forty".

The pieces on this recording represent some of Mozart’s earliest efforts at composition. Unlike his very first works, which were written out by Leopold Mozart who also, no doubt, assisted here and there in their composition, the pieces in the London Sketchbook were composed entirely by Mozart. Many of them were not completed - they were sketched out or left in draft form - but only three were left as fragments. Most of the pieces contain errors or omissions of some sort, some of which are minor slips, others the result of Mozart’s as yet imprecise grasp of the finer points of musical notation. Nonetheless one is struck immediately by the fertility of the young Mozart’s imagination and the rapidity of his musical development. The London Sketchbook, perhaps more than any of the other manuscripts of the period, reveals Mozart’s expanding musical horizons. The sketchbook begins with a short keyboard piece and ends with a fugal exercise; by the time he had finished using the sketchbook Mozart was already the composer of several symphonies.

The inside cover of the London Sketchbook is signed [in Leopold Mozart’s hand] "di Wolfgango Mozart, à Londra 1764". The sketchbook contains around forty pieces, the first 25 of which are written in pencil and the remainder in ink. Scholars believe that the first group of pieces was probably composed during the period from April to December 1764 and the second group between January and July 1765. Some of the pieces were composed during Leopold Mozart’s illness when, according to Nannerl, she and her brother were forbidden from playing the harpsichord. This may account for some of the technical oddities found in a number of the pieces, but I believe that, in some instances at least, these indicate that the pieces concerned were not originally conceived for keyboard.

In view of the incompleteness of much of the material in Mozart’s London Sketchbook the pieces have been largely ignored by performers. A number of musicologists have examined its contents with some care and there have been several attempts to realise Mozart’s musical intentions. In many instances these have been unsuccessful owing either to misreadings of the original manuscript or a failure to appreciate fully the novelty of Mozart’s musical thought processes. My intention in preparing and recording this new edition is to satisfy a longstanding wish expressed by many music-lovers to have access to this valuable musical material in a form suitable for both scholarly research and practical use. As a pianist, composer and musicologist interested in questions of style, I have spent two decades working intensively with this material, carefully completing those pieces preserved only as sketches, or rather as drafts (representing almost one half of the total), filling in the gaps in musical structures which are at times fragmentary or merely sketched out, and elucidating the timbral characteristics of the respective movements. This has required both an intuitive feel for the limited attention span and sudden ‘micro’ impulses characteristic of the young child and a stylistic sense of the tonal structure of Mozart’s early technique in terms of form.

Even in the case of what appear to be shorthand drafts, generally quickly noted down in sloping script, it would appear that the material largely represents ideas for musical works fully ‘heard’ in the ear of the young composer. Accordingly, part of my task as editor, even when confronted with coded, poorly intelligible drafts (e.g. K15g, K15s, K15dd or the fragment K15rr), was to formulate, applying a measure of speculation where necessary, conceptual ideas of entire works, thereby making a previously concealed part of Mozart’s intentions perceptible for the first time in an organized tonal structure.

My objective in completing the material in this manner was to draw to attention the high level of musical organisational ability displayed by Mozart as a child, to trace ideas which have often not been accorded the respect they deserve, in spite of the structural logic they generally display, and again in this area to fill in some obvious gaps. Only then does it become possible to provide a creative insight into the inspired early works of Mozart and to challenge both music-lovers in general and Mozart specialists to form their own opinion and their own specific performance style.

The question of how far the young Mozart, assuming he was even interested in a final form for these works, would have concurred with the speculative performance version provided here is less important than the fact that in this way these fascinating flashes illuminating his conceptual universe are finally available in a usable form. To date, the material in the London Sketchbook has been played by a small number of individual music enthusiasts, a reflection of its apparent lack of substance and ‘user-friendliness’. Even if further study, actively encouraged by this new edition, casts doubt on these realisations and interpretations, the edition will nonetheless have played its part in dusting off a creative treasure which, to date, has been far too little known, and may well be described as the musical raw material of genius. My study of the autograph, preserved in the Biblioteka Jagiellonska in Cracow, has taught me to have full respect for the conceptual and personal world of ideas of the child composer.

This edition is designed solely for piano performance in contrast with the vivid orchestrations of several of the pieces produced many years ago by Eric Smith. This reflects my view that Mozart’s clavier/harpsichord playing style is to be seen as the primary creative impulse, and also my conviction that Mozart’s miniatures, for which there were certainly quite different instrumentation intentions, could be successfully modified for the pianoforte.

K15ee/ff/ee and K15pp/qq/pp have been labelled in the arranged version as ‘Minuet and Trio’ and as ‘Minuet I’ and ‘Minuet II’. I have also taken the view that pieces K15i/k belong together as ‘Maggiore’ and ‘Minore’, on the basis of the close relationships between the motifs and the appearance of the autograph.

Finally, let me make the point that these efforts to provide access to Mozart’s London Sketchbook are undertaken not for his sake, but because of the need to extend our view of Mozart.

Hans-Udo Kreuels

Allan Badley

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