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When Mozart made the life-changing decision to become an independent musician and set up shop in Vienna, in 1782, he called the city “the land of the piano.” At that time the instrument had gained immense popularity, although it wasn’t until about 1800 that the piano became an indispensable piece of furniture in the homes of the genteel. By that time a brilliant performer at the keyboard, Mozart rightly decided to play to his strengths and began producing those works that could bring attention to his enormous talent. The road to fame became the concerto for piano and orchestra. And when one thinks of Mozart’s music for the piano, one goes first to the concertos, those 20-plus compositions for keyboard and orchestra which range in quality from sturdy to sublime. Only then does one turn with due appreciation to the solo sonatas, pieces which, in the pianistic kingdom of heaven, are a little lower than the angels.

Mozart’s first five sonatas, written in Salzburg, are lost items listed in the catalog. The next several sonatas are products of Munich and Mannheim, with the exception of the dynamic and wonderful Sonata in A minor, K. 310, which saw the light of day in the City of Light, Paris. Until fairly recently the Sonata K. 333 that opens this recital was also considered a Parisian, but musicological investigation has placed it chronologically in 1783, later than Mozart’s Paris sojourn, and geographically in Linz and Vienna. The date and location of the Sonata’s inception, however, are incidental facts that don’t alter one’s appreciation of the work as a winning example of the master’s solo piano writing.

It is a warm and lovely piece, galant, and feminine throughout. (There are those who dispute the reference to feminine, but perception, being a personal matter, is not necessarily shared by all.) As is so often the case even in Mozart’s lightest works, there are moments in them which reach beyond mere charm; in the present Sonata these occur in the middle section of the slow movement, when the chromaticism evolves into an intense expressiveness. For the rest, one is content to revel in the sheer loveliness and openness of a splendid gem of a creation.

— Orrin Howard, who served the Los Angeles Philharmonic as Director of Publications and Archives for more than 20 years, continues to contribute to the Philharmonic’s program book.