About this Recording
8.573114 - MOZART, W.A.: Fugues, Rondos and Fantasias (Sang Woo Kang)
English 

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791)
Fugues, Rondos and Fantasias for Piano

 

Mozart was born in Salzburg in 1756. A prodigy, he started playing the clavier at the age of three, and composed his first works when he was five. Noticing his precocity, his father, Leopold Mozart, took him and his older sister to perform at various European courts in France, Austria, England, Germany, and more. These tours allowed him to develop his gifts and assimilate local tastes. Establishing Mozart’s career proved difficult, though a journey to Italy between 1771–1773 resulted in important operatic commissions. Endeavours in Salzburg, Munich, Mannheim, and Paris were unsuccessful. Despite Mozart’s mastery in any genre and potential for international repute, prospective employers, such as the Archbishop of Salzburg, showed disinterest. In 1781 Mozart moved to Vienna and the following year married Constanze Weber, working independently as a composer and teacher from 1781 to the end of his life. His financial footing was always uncertain, as he steadily depleted his already unstable income through household expenses and a luxurious lifestyle. Still, his time in Vienna bore fruit: Mozart composed three great comic operas, his finest wind music, three of his most incredible symphonies (including the ‘Jupiter’ Symphony), and many of the keyboard works recorded on this programme. He died on 5 December 1791, leaving his Requiem unfinished.

Mozart left behind a number of unfinished scores, ranging from pieces mostly finished to fragments only a few measures long. Following his death, Constanze, with remarkable prescience, realised their value to future scholarship. Hoping that these would eventually be published or purchased, she compiled a comprehensive list, suggesting that “these marvellous relics would by themselves be an enduring monument to his inexhaustible genius”. No collection of Mozart’s keyboard works, and by extension understanding of Mozart’s “genius,” would be truly comprehensive without the inclusion of his fragments.

This recording includes completed compositions and fragments, many atypical for Mozart: fugues, a funeral march, rondos, fantasias, and an unfinished suite. The result of serious study of Bach and Handel, these works have in common a contrapuntal disposition. In his engagement with strict contrapuntal techniques and outmoded forms such as the dance suite and the fugue, Mozart would exercise powers of imitation, assimilation, and synthesis significant to his artistic endeavours.

A lifelong preoccupation with the contrapuntal tradition appears in the fugues, which constitute the greater part of this programme. Accounts describe Mozart’s prodigious facility with fugal material. According to a 1771 newspaper, an experienced musician gave him a fugue theme “which he worked out for more than an hour with such science, dexterity, harmony and proper attention to rhythm that even the greatest connoisseurs were astounded”. Mozart was fifteen. Relatively polished, the Little Fugues, K. 154a (about 1772/1773) [19][20], Fugue in D major, K. K73w (1773) [14], and the Fugue in G major, K. Anh. 41 (1776/1777) [15] are preliminary sketches suggesting Mozart’s agility with complex contrapuntal material.

In 1782, the year after his marriage to Constanze, Mozart turned his attention to fugal composition which resulted in a number of unfinished keyboard fugues in addition to arrangements of Handel’s and Bach’s fugues for string ensemble. In April 1782, Mozart wrote to his father, “I go every Sunday at twelve o’clock to the Baron van Swieten, where nothing is played but Handel and Bach. I am collecting at the moment the fugues of Bach.” Thanks to the Baron, an influential Viennese music patron, Mozart had access to all the works of Handel and Bach, including the Well-Tempered Clavier and the Art of the Fugue. In a letter to his sister, he wrote that Constanze “absolutely fell in love” with these works and listened to nothing but fugues. After listening to him play Bach’s fugues, she “scolded him roundly for not recording some of [his own] compositions in this most artistic and beautiful of all musical forms”.

Constanze’s urging led to the composition of the Prelude (sometimes called Fantasy) and Fugue in C major, K. 394 [3], by Mozart’s own accounts his first complete keyboard fugue to be written out, dated April 1782. Dynamic and textural contrasts mark the Prelude: an improvisatory Andante filled with scales and arpeggios follows an Adagio introduction before concluding on the dominant to prepare for a methodical, three-part fugue. The fugue abounds with sophisticated fugal techniques along with Mozart’s own harmonic treatment.

Other fragments, dating from the same period, show Mozart’s systematic study of the genre. These vary in length and completeness. The Six Fugues in E minor [21][26] consist of six attempts to work out a fugal subject. The first and last fragments, also the longer ones, appear to be possible beginnings of about 15–20 measures long, while the rest are only four-five measures long. The Fugue in F major, K. 375h [16], marked by constant semiquaver (sixteenth-note) action, is only thirteen measures long. The Two Fugues in E flat major [27][28], the Fugue in D minor [29], and the Fugue in C minor, K. Anh. 39a [30] are of uncertain chronology, but display some finesse even as works in progress, as does the Fugue in F major, K. Anh. 33 and 40 (1782) [17] and the Fugue in C minor, K. Anh. 39 [18].

Others are more substantial. The Fugue in G minor, K. 401 [1], written perhaps in 1773 in Salzburg, with the last eight bars later added by Maximilian Stadler, shows the Bachian influence through the use of involved contrapuntal techniques, such as a double fugue. Connections can be drawn between its style and those of the Art of the Fugue. The Fugue in E flat major, K. 153 (1783) [2] only survived as a 27-measure fragment, here with Simon Sechter’s 39-measure addition. Like many of the other fragments, it probably served as a compositional exercise, as the Fugue in G minor, K. 154 [4], included in his pupil Barbara Ployer’s notebook and completed later by Simon Sechter.

The other works explore various stylistic modes, though the Baroque remains a subtle influence. To the Little Funeral March in C minor, K. 453a (1784) [5], preserved in Barbara Ployer’s album, Mozart affixed the additional title Marche funebre del Sgr. Maestro Contrapunto (Funeral March of Signor Master Counterpoint). Unlike his orderly fugues, this sixteen-measure parody , with mock-seriousness, employs some cheeky parallel fifths and exaggerated descending chromatic scalar figures.

The more substantial Rondo in D major, K. 485 (1786) [6] and Rondo in A minor, K. 511 (1787) [7] are mainstays of keyboard repertoire owing to their memorable themes and musical depth. In the compelling Rondo in D major, a complex rondo form undergirds a light and delicate character. In contrast, the Rondo in A minor unfolds on a larger scale, opening in a more poignant vein: a delicately ornamented theme prefigures Chopin. Mozart communicates pathos through the falling sevenths and chromaticism threaded through both theme and contrasting material.

The Suite in C major, K. 399 (1782) [9][12] and the Gigue in G major, K. 574 (1789) [8] reflect Baroque dance forms. Mozart completed the Overture, Allemande, and Courante, but only sketched a few measures of the opening of a Sarabande. The structure conforms stylistically to the Baroque suite, with some deviations (each movement is in a different key, whereas Baroque suites would have been unified by key). The Overture reflects the two-part structure of the French overture with a dramatic, slow section followed by a fast, fugal section. The other dance movements follow their respective forms, with a ceremonious Allemande, a lively, graceful Courante, and a stately Sarabande. In the concise, chromatic Gigue, Mozart returns to a dance form rarely used by Classical composers. Dated 16 May 1789, the piece was written for Karl Immanuel Engel, Court Organist in Leipzig, a city Mozart visited during his journey in that year to Berlin with Prince Karl Lichnowsky. Spare but animated, this daring, contrapuntally inflected piece resembles the gigue from Handel’s Suite in F minor, HWV 433.

The Fantasia in C minor, K. 396 (1784) [13], which resembles the freely improvisational style of C.P.E. Bach, is a 27-measure exposition from a violin sonata arranged and completed for solo piano by Stadler. The Fantasia in F minor, K. Anh. 32 (1789) [31] is a stormy fourteen-measure fragment.

Even in these incomplete works, Mozart’s unparalleled ability not merely to imitate but rather to synthesize diverse resources in his own voice is very evident. This understanding would be fully realised in the contrapuntal texture of works such as the ‘Jupiter’ Symphony and the Requiem. By presenting many of these unfinished compositions, this recording for a reevaluation of a neglected facet of Mozart’s keyboard oeuvre and offers insights into his compositional development.


Sang Woo Kang


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