performed by Christoph Eschenbach, or below by the also spectacular Mitsuko Uchida
Here we are with Mozart’s fifth piano sonata, and per yesterday’s article, the two Köchel numbers reflect its original and incorrect ordering, later being given the lower number to reflect its composition before a number of other works, including some piano concertos we’ll discuss this week.
It, too, was composed on Mozart’s trip to Munich for the production of his opera La Finta Giardiniera, completed in 1775, and this sonata was apparently completed just before then. Although these sonatas were not published in a group like some of Beethoven’s sonatas were, they were composed at around the same time and are considered to be of the same “set,” perhaps.
Slightly later than the fourth yesterday, K. 189h was written in early 1775. I didn’t mention it yesterday, but this group of early sonatas is united not only chronologically, but by their “typical key plan,” as Brian Robins says in his article at AllMusic. The first is in C, but instead of working around sharps first, he goes to F, then B flat, then E flat, as we saw yesterday, and now we begin sharps, with G major. Robins also uses this as evidence that they may have been intended for publication. There is apparently evidence that Mozart played them at some of his concerts while in Paris and elsewhere, and honestly, a listen or two reveals why the composer may have been so fond of them, or at least why his audiences may have been.
In speaking of yesterday’s work, I tried to find the right words to describe its mellifluous, perfectly light but wholly expressive nature, but we have some more insight there. In the AllMusic article linked yesterday, John Palmer mentions “J.C. Bach’s keyboard style.” Robins goes a bit further, mentioning Mozart’s deep impression of “the London Bach” when they met. Can you hear that? Maybe.
Like its predecessor, it too is in three movements, with Wiki citing a playing time of “twelve to eighteen (Richter) minutes.” I can only imagine that this 50% discrepancy comes from observation of certain repeats here and there. The first movement, as we would expect, is in a very brief sonata form, with a development section of only 18 bars. Wiki says that “The shorter length and moderate technical demands make it an ideal piece for early-advanced study and performance.”
The first movement gives us the same carefree beauty as we heard in the fourth, but it isn’t a slow movement. In fact, it’s quite lively, but the sense of lightness and fluidity is the same. I wish there were a better word than ‘charming’, something that carried more weight, but meant the same kind of thing. It’s beautiful, and it doesn’t take much. The young composer, already with plenty of experience, seems always to offer up exquisitely simple yet astonishingly beautiful musical material, but that development is kept short and sweet. Part of this sense of effortless grace may come from the minuet-like tempo, but there’s no reason to over-analyze, is there?
The secon movement is equally graceful, in the bright key of C, with a slightly darker middle section. There’s no funeral march or anything to be found here; this isn’t Beethoven (yet), no tempers or sorrows, just something to add a tasteful contrast to the movement, and the piece overall.
In contrast with the broader, spacious second movement, the third, marked presto, gives us a suitable ending to this more petite sonata, and certainly the greatest technical challenges (I would guess) for the “early-advanced” student. It explodes in a burst of ebullient joy and excitement, presented in a bouncy 3/8 meter. It’s refreshing and exciting, and there are similar contrasts of light and dark, of dynamics, and content in this movement that show Mozart as a deft composer, able to fit so much into a small, neat little package. How could you not be charmed to pieces by this in a live performance?
It’s concise, unassuming, but astonishingly satisfying. Just imagine what the later sonatas will be like! We’ve got some time left before we get there, and lots to discuss between now and then, but even at this point, what little gems we have to enjoy! We’ll discuss one more sonata from Mozart’s pen this week before moving on to a few concertos, so do stay tuned for that and much more piano on the way.