Pianist and fortepianist David Breitman may be best-known for his collaboration with baritone Sanford Sylvan, spanning twenty-five years and including hundreds of concerts, as well as four CD’s (two of [...]
They spoke about it
Mozart’s Viennese Sonatas for Fortepiano and Violin
The sonatas K.296 and 376-380—collectively known as the “Auernhammer Sonatas” (they are dedicated to Mozart’s piano student Josepha Auernhammer)—represent Mozart’s calling card in Vienna: they were the first important chamber works published by him after his permanent move to the Imperial capital. In some respects they recall the music composed immediately before, including the opera Idomeneo and even the earlier set of sonatas K.301-306; in other respects, however, they look ahead to the leaner textural style of the period up to 1784 and in particular the piano concertos K.413-415, composed in the winter of 1782-1783. They are “rich in new ideas,” as a reviewer in Carl Friedrich Cramer’s Magazin der Musik put it, and full of surprises: K.378 includes a sonata movement with three themes (a more common 19th-century practice), an expressive slow movement and a Rondeau finale with a surprising second episode, in the main key but a different meter; the elaborate G major Adagio of K.379 begins like a sonata (including a first half repeat), but then proceeds to a half-cadence that does not lead to a recapitulation but, rather, a stormy Allegro in G minor; while K.380, perhaps the most brilliant of the set—and a fitting conclusion—not only exploits key relations typical of Romantic music (the middle movement, in G minor, is a third away from the flanking E-flat movements) but also some of that later time’s sense of fantasy: the development section of the first movement begins and ends with a new theme.
The publication of K.296 and 376-380 represents Mozart’s first public exposure in Vienna as a mature composer, no longer the child prodigy who had toured with his father in the 1760s and early 1770s (three times in Vienna, in 1762, 1767-68 and 1773). And they were an immediate success. The sonatas even had a favourable reception in Italy, where Mozart’s music was not much appreciated at the time (or even considerably later—works such as the quartets dedicated to Haydn and the mature operas were considered too difficult to play). Unlike the last Salzburg works (including the Sinfonia concertante for violin and viola K.364 and his Munich opera Idomeneo), which are characterized by elaborate formal gestures and an almost willful exploitation of textural complexity, the sonatas of 1781 are streamlined and compact, even popularizing. At the same time, they sacrifice little in terms of compositional sophistication. Apparently, this was a conscious attempt on Mozart’s part to win over all strata of Viennese musical society. That the piano is the lead instrument in these sonatas was already clear in K.296 (see AN 2 9821). K.376 and 377, both in F major, are genial works as well, on much the same scale as the earlier C major. But the Viennese sonatas are also more thoroughly virtuosic, not only in their development sections but throughout, and for both the violin and keyboard, which share a greater partnership here than previously (as, for example, in the accompanimental figure for the violin at the beginning of the Andante of K.376). The D minor variation movement of K.376 is particularly attractive and nowhere more so than in the major variation, number 5, with its stunningly simple yet sophisticated canon between violin and piano right hand.
No less remarkable is K.526, composed in August 1787. Possibly the greatest of Mozart’s violin sonatas, its slow movement is in many respects the opposite of K.454’s (see AN29822): it is, to all intents and purposes, devoid of melody (or at least traditional melody) altogether—the movement consists chiefly in a series of accompanimental gestures, with sudden and expressive changes from major to minor. The two outer movements are brilliant romps that can never quite make up their metrical minds: the opening Molto Allegro vacillates between 6/8 and 3/4, while the alla breve Finale, one of the longest rondos in a chamber work by Mozart, gives the strong impression, in the first episode (and again at the end of the movement), of having been thrown off by half a bar. This movement is based in part on a theme from Carl Friedrich Abel’s Trio for keyboard, violin and violoncello, Op. 5 No. 5. Abel, who had become acquainted with Mozart in London in 1764 and 1765, had died on 20 June 1787—it is tempting to see in Mozart’s quotation an act of homage similar to his inclusion of a theme from a J. C. Bach overture in the slow movement of the concerto K.414, only shortly after the “London” Bach’s death in early 1782.
K.526 was preceded by the sonata K.481, completed on 12 December 1785 and published by Franz Hoffmeister (who also published the A major sonata) in 1786. The first movement of this Sonata in E flat is a very gay, fluent Allegro. The Adagio is full of gentle emotions, the true expression of languishing love, I would say, and the change of tonality which Herr M. twice permits himself in this movement, though not without hardness, is also of good effect. The conclusion is an Allegro with six variations.
© Cliff Eisen