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FastNotes

  • In addition to his genius as a composer and pianist, Mozart was an accomplished violinist and violist. So it is hardly surprising that Mozart composed a number of sonatas for violin and piano – or rather, for piano with violin.
  • Completed in 1785, K. 481 is a marvel of construction and craft on every level. The limber opening Molto allegro is in the expected sonata form, but with three subjects and a chromatic development that sets up the recapitulation.
  • The harmonically adventuresome middle movement is an idiosyncratic mix of rondo and variation, and the finale is a set of mostly figural variations, culminating in a gigue of freewheeling joy.

In addition to everything else – composer of astonishing invention and fluency, virtuoso pianist, all-round boy wonder – Mozart was an accomplished violinist and violist. He could hardly have avoided it, as his father Leopold was a master violinist and the author of the leading violin manual of the day. So it is hardly surprising that Mozart composed a number of sonatas for violin and piano – or rather, for piano with violin. In the duo sonatas that Mozart composed throughout his career, there is a constant development of equality in the partnership, which initially placed the burden entirely on the keyboard and left the string part almost optional.

This is one of Mozart’s late essays in the genre, completed in December 1785. (He composed only two more violin sonatas, and the last one was a throw-back “for beginners.”) The vestiges of the old inequities are apparent, particularly at the beginning of movements, but this is otherwise a mature, balanced conversation, full of robust give-and-take, laughter and sharp asides, and digressions that turn out to be pertinent in surprising ways.

It is also a marvel of construction and craft on every level. Each movement begins with the notes of the tonic triad, but each extends the phrase with different means to different ends. The limber opening Molto allegro is in the expected sonata form, but with three subjects and a chromatic developement that consists mostly of a dramatic rising sequence and a long dominant preparation for the extravagantly teased recapitulation. The harmonically adventuresome middle movement is an idiosyncratic mix of rondo and variation, and the finale is a set of mostly figural variations, culminating in a gigue of freewheeling joy.

John Henken is Publications Editor for the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association.