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8.557664 - MOZART: Violin Sonatas, Vol. 5
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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791): Violin Sonatas • 5

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.

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 Sonata in F major, K.547, described as ‘ a little piano sonata for a beginner with a violin’ was entered into Mozart’s own list of compositions with the date 10th July 1788, shortly after the ‘kleine Klavier Sonate für Anfänger (Little Piano Sonata for Beginner), K.545. The primary source for the violin sonata is an edition of 1805 by Mollo & Co. in Vienna, but it has been suggested that the last two movements were originally for piano, since both had appeared, after Mozart’s death, in that form, and have been the subject of varied speculation. The first movement, marked Andantino cantabile, opens with a simple melody, with the violin generally a third below the piano melody, but assuming more melodic independence in the middle section. A passage in B flat major leads to a piano cadenza of elementary display, after which the first material returns to end the movement. The following Allegro shares the first subject between the two instruments, while the piano takes initial precedence in the secondary theme. There is a short development section, after which the first material returns in varied recapitulation. The piano presents the theme for the final variations, the first three of which are given principally to the keyboard, before the violin is allowed some prominence in the fourth variation. The fifth, in F minor, is for piano alone, which follows in a sixth version of the material with rapid notes, anchored by the slower notes of the violin, which is allowed final melodic interest in conclusion.

The Twelve Variations on the French Song “La Bergère Célimène”, K.359, were written in Vienna in June 1781. It seems probable that Mozart wrote the work 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 20th June 1781 to his father he mentions in conclusion the fact that he is busy composing variations for his pupil, possibly 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 her teacher, she became renowned as very proficient on the instrument, 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 song La Bergère Célimène seems to have been taken from a collection of songs for two voices by the French castrato and teacher Antoine Albanèse, published in 1770. The opening words of the chanson indicate its conventional theme: La Bergère Célimène dans les bois s’en va chantant (The Shepherdess Célimène goes singing in the woods). The piano is entrusted with the Allegretto theme, with a violin accompaniment. The following variations include a third for piano alone, a fourth in triplets and a fifth in semiquavers. The seventh variation is in a dramatic G minor and the eighth introduces a brief element of counterpoint. The tenth variation allows the piano handcrossing and the eleventh, Adagio, is accompanied by the violin’s plucked and syncopated chords. The final variation allows the violin the principal melodic interest.

The Sonata in A major, K.526, is dated 24th August 1787. On 28th May Mozart’s father had died in Salzburg, his last letter to Mozart’s sister Nannerl expressing his misgivings about his son’s management of his affairs in Vienna. In January had come a commission from Prague for a new opera, Don Giovanni, to be staged there in October. While nothing certain is known of the circumstances of composition of the violin sonata, it has been suggested that it was influenced by the death in London of Carl Friedrich Abel, a colleague of Johann Christian Bach, whom he had known as a child in London, and the Mozart scholar Georges de Saint-Foix drew attention to Mozart’s use of a theme from a sonata by Abel in the final rondo. Mozart’s sonata was published in September 1787 by Hoffmeister and he seems to have played it privately with the violinist Heinrich Anton Hoffmann during a visit to Mainz in 1790. The sonata shares the musical content more equably between the two players than is the case with the other two works here included. The principal theme of the opening Molto allegro is heard from both instruments, before a short piano link to the second subject, first entrusted to the violin, before rôles are reversed. The thematic material is explored in the central development, before returning in varied recapitulation. The D major slow movement is marked first by the steady rhythm of the piano accompanying figure, later given to the violin when the piano takes up the cantabile theme. Further material is introduced before the second section of the movement, making further use of the opening elements before the return of the original key, with the piano quaver pattern now syncopated. The final rondo is dominated by its principal theme, framing contrasting episodes rich in invention, and often, for the moment at least, assuming the character of a perpetuum mobile in its quaver patterns, ending a work of significant maturity.

Keith Anderson

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