Mozart – Piano Sonatas

Release Date: 16 January 1995

Label: Deutsche Grammophon

Producer: Werner Mayer

Recording place: Friedrich-Ebert-Halle, Hamburg

Total playing time: CD [48:29]

Copyright: © 1995 Deutsche Grammophon


16 January 1995

It is by no means uncommon for enthusiasts to declare that this or that passage is “divine” or “heavenly”, that [Mozart’s] music is “not of this world”… One constantly comes across references to the element of serenity, to that which is graceful, soaring yet touched by a light breath of melancholy, and marked by longing for things spiritual. In reality, however, these references apply to the style of the age, to form. What is regarded as Mozartian is more characteristic of – shall we say – Boccherini than it is of Mozart, and anyone who sees in Mozart’s music no more than lightness, although encompassing spiritual qualities and overcoming everything tragic yet still bearing tragedy within itself – such a listener is probably unaware of the immense range of mysterious, in part demoniac, qualities in Mozart’s musk which defy analysis… The profoundest and at the same time sublimest expression of things human, worldly and universal – i.e. belonging to the world of Mozart, [his music] is never manifesto nor self-af-firmation, it contains no “struggle”. It keeps to the events on the stage, tracing the characteristics and evolution of its objects, thereby setting itself apart from its creator, who “gives himself over entirely to his task”, forgetting himself.

(Wolfgang Hildeshheimer, Wer War Mozart?
Suhrkamp Verlag, 1966, p. 18 f.)

At the age of 19 Mozart was chafing at the hit in Salzburg. He was subject to the will of his father and of Prince-Archbishop Colloredo, both moralizing traditionalists and severe authoritarian figures. During a brief visit to Munich in 1775 in connection with his opera La finta giardiniera he composed the Piano Sonata in G major, K. 283, which reflects his uncertainties and secret aspirations, especially in its second movement. What other C major piece by Mozart is so veiled in tone, so sensitive and restless?

Three years latet, after a stay in Mannheim, the young composer found himself in Paris again. During the visit his mother, who had travelled with him, fell ill and died. On 15 October 1778, back in his father’s house, he wrote : “In Salzburg I don’t know who I am – I’m everything and nothing at the same time – I don’t ask for much, but more than this at least – just something …”

It was once again in Munich, in 1780–81, this time in connection with Idomeneo, that he wrote a new series of piano sonatas, which included the Sonata in A major, K. 331.

The Fantasia in D minor was composed in spring 1782 in Vienna, where the composer had been living for a year, free at last of his Salzburg shackles, planning his marriage to Constanze, which took place on 4 August 1782. In the present recording Ivo Pogorelich evokes these seven crucial years in Mozart’s life, rounding them off with the Fantasia. In the latter, which merits attentive listening, the curtain rises slowly with eleven opening bars still sunk in shadow, before a mezzo-soprano sings in simple accents the sorrow of her tragic situation. After some incidents of secondary importance, the song returns. A ballet-like D major Allegretto provides a desultory happy ending. One cannot help recalling Orpheus’ lament and the Dance of the Blessed Spirits from Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice (1774). This was also the inspiration for the Trio in the second movement of the A major sonata and the fourth variation of the same work’s Andante grazioso, whose theme, according to the Prague musicologist Henri Rietsch, derives from a South German folksong, “Rechte Lebensart” (The Right Way to Live).

The scholars Jean and Brigitte Massin maintain that the Fantasia, written at the same time as Die Entfahrung ass dent Serail. contains allusions to the Sing-spiel Zurek of 1780. There Mozart exploits the fashionable interest in Turkish ways and customs, and provides a touching illustration of his preoccupation with Freemasonry. Following the French philosophers Voltaire and Montesquieu and German Enlightenment thinkers such as Lessing, the composer intended to undermine the rigid intolerance of Christian institutions which claimed to have a monopoly of moral values. Mozart showed himself passionately committed in Zaïde, on the one hand contradicting racist prejudices with a noble depiction of Oriental manners, on the other attacking institutionalized sexism by portraying a heroine – with whom he identified as a composer under tutelage – who, thanks to her love and greatness of soul, succeeds in breaking free of the bonds of slavery. This courageous initiative was to come to a dazzling climax in Beethoven’s Leonore. The Turkish pastiche also breaks up the Classical melodies with arabesques and the serene transparent harmonics with appoggiaturas and the indeterminate tones of triangles and sistra. A dream of the Orient dissolves the grey rationalism of excessively regular structures, foreshadowing the Romanticism of Delacroix and Baudelaire.

A world away from the two Haydn sonatas recorded by the same artist a year ago (DG 435 618-2), which are more naturally suited to the piano, the two three-movement Mozart sonatas presented here make up a sort of operatic ballet, to which the Fantasia in D minor forms a conclusion, with its paradoxically more rigorous binary division into an operatic and a dance-like section. There is a considerable difference between the role of the left hand – a discreet, rhythmically precise accompanist resembling the humble efficient collaborators in an orchestra pit – and that of the right hand, with its profusion of stage effects, dramatic pauses, sweeping, lightning arpeggios and moments of Stunt: tend Drang pathos. And is not the ultimate paradox of Mozart this Amadeus (beloved of God), “given over entirely to his task, forgetful of himself”, whom we love so deeply for his wholly human vulnerability?

© Pierre Jasmin / Deutsche Grammophon