Thursday, October 26, 2006

Mozart Sonata in A minor K.310 (Paris)

It is always dangerous to associate biographical detail with a work of art - discussing intentions and inspirations is an uncertain thing at best. However, scholars have dated Mozart's Sonata in A minor, K. 310 to the early summer of 1778 and it is impossible to neglect the fact that the composer was at that time visiting Paris and tending to his ailing mother. She would die there on July 3. Mozart was 22 years old and the years in Vienna still lay ahead.

Out of Mozart's more than 600 completed works a mere 30 or so were written in a minor key; only one other piano sonata was written in the minor. Perhaps it is not overreaching, then, to suggest that the almost orchestral tragedy that the sonorities of this sonata conjures is closely tied to the young man's frame of mind.

The Sonata opens in turgid dark terrain. Even when the music edges into the major there is an uneasy tension throughout. Conflict and dissonance are always nearby. The second movement, Andante cantabile con espressione, in a consoling F major, offers a respite, but the final movement, again in A minor, rushes to its conclusion in bleakness. In the face of the conventions of a time that expected an ultimate happy ending, Mozart hurtles past a few glimpses of optimism headlong into despair, the reverberations of which will be heard later in Beethoven and even in Chopin. In a letter to his father informing him of his mother's death, Mozart wrote: "I have indeed suffered and wept enough - but what did it avail?"

The famous pianist Artur Schnabel famously said of Mozart's sonatas that they are too easy for children and too difficult for artists. Of course, there is nothing easy about music that is so spare that it exposes instantly any digital or emotional deficiencies in the performer. -- Grant Hiroshima (09/06)

K. 310 (1778, Paris) -- This famous sonata, one of only two that Mozart wrote in a minor key, was composed in Paris either right before or right after Mozart's mother's death in July, 1778. It is one of Mozart's few compositions that invites comparisons between his life and his music. The sonata is dominated by a despairing chromaticism, particularly in the development of the first movement and the astounding middle section of the slow movement. In the latter, the insistent repeated note triplets, the unnaturally large leaps, and the glaring dissonance of the reiterated 2nds, combine to create a kind of terror not witnessed in any of the preceding sonatas, or, indeed, in any of those to come. Mozart's father, Leopold. even pleaded with Mozart to desist from using such "harmonic progressions, which the majority of people cannot fathom." The third movement combines glimpses of heaven and hell in much the same way as the second movement--the bulk of the movement is an agitated and troubled presto in A minor, interrupted briefly, but unforgettably, by 32 bars in A major, which could provide solace to the most inconsolate among us. -- Catherine Kautsky

The A-minor sonata is a troubling, almost bitter, highly emotional work that looks toward Schubert and Beethoven. The first movement, Allegro maestoso, played without its repeats, is rhythmically nervous and unsettled; Goode makes much of the recurring low chords played against the falsely jolly-jaunty right hand. Although Mozart seems at first relaxed in the Andante cantabile con espressione, the movement takes an unexpectedly dark, edgy turn that Goode underlines. The sonata's finale, Presto, defines "anxious." In fact, neither outer movement ever stops: each has a breathless quality caught ideally by Goode without ever seeming rushed or too weighty; he plays them briskly, with stunning accuracy, and just the right brittleness. -- Robert Levine

The Allegro maestoso is one of Mozart's most Beethoven-like works; at least, in the sense of its unbridled intensity. The Andante cantabile con espressione is an early evening stroll past hauntingly familiar grounds. The concluding Presto must have also presented quite a powerful model for the young Beethoven to shoot at. (There's a superstition that Mozart's inspiration here was his mother's corpse (in the next room); but one could hardly imagine anyone concentrating this well with one's mother's corpse in the next room.) -- S.D. Rodrian

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