performed by Fazıl Say, or below by Dame Mitsuko Uchida
(cover image by Chris Barbalis)
Mozart’s seventh piano sonata dates from 1777, a full two and a half years after the sixth. It was composed during a trip to Mannheim and Paris that year. It seems it was completed within the span of only a few days, in November 1777.
Wolfie’s father Leopold remarked that the piece is:
a strange composition. It has something in it of the ‘rather artificial’ Mannheim style, but so very little that your own good style is not spoilt.
That seems like a comment. I suppose ‘strange’ here is more along the lines of ‘curious’ or ‘interesting,’ but who knows?
The work is in three movements, and has a duration of around 16 minutes, or almost 20 in Say’s reading. The movements are as follows:
- Allegro con spirito
- Andante un poco adagio
- Rondo (allegretto grazioso)
In reading the section on Musical Innovations of the Mannheim Style article on Wikipedia, such basic things as whole-orchestra crescendos, or other crescendos or diminuendos of various kinds seem…. hardly innovative, but they were big deals back then. In this work, we hear a little bit of that roar.
As you may know if you’ve ever played or heard or seen a piano, you can’t crescendo a specific single note. It doesn’t happen. In spite of this fact, some composers still write crescendos for sustained notes on a piano. I digress.
We hear some of these Mannheim innovations in Mozart’s work. The opening is robust, a big, ripply C in three octaves, actually C and G, Tonic and dominant, but answered by a much quieter, daintier phrase. This is already superb contrast, and the liveliness of the themes, like where the right hand dances and flutters over a repeated note in the left hand. This energy continues through to the development, where we plunge with the same gesture into the minor key, but make it back out in time for the recapitulation, where there is still a bit more development to be had, with a reappearance of the minor gesture, before the ending of this exciting movement.
The second movement, in F major, is apparently a portrait of the composer’s student (at least for a few months), one Rose Cannabich, who was at the time thirteen years old. It is a pretty movement, but his comments about her may be less than flattering. He described both as being “serious, predictable and somewhat boring.” It’s certainly pretty, and even here we have contrasts of dynamic that put some life into this otherwise only pretty movement.
The finale, a rondo of course, with a long primary theme that’s repeated almost outright, and reappears ornamented differently every time. The entire being of the music is so drastically different from the previous movement that it feels like the beginning of an entirely new piece. In Say’s recording, you can hear his hums and groans as he plays, which is perhaps endearing to some, maddening to others, but he certainly plays it with a passion that suits the music. It is, at least to my ear, not bombastic or untoward.
Uchida’s Mozart, which I really feel is… just generally impeccable, isn’t as burly (?) or bustling as Say’s but both are wonderfully convincing interpretations of a piece that tells us unmistakably that The Young Composer, now finally in his twenties, is starting to do not just good, or precocious, or talented things, but seems to have begun to approach greatness. Isn’t that exciting? We’re getting to the good stuff now.
We’ll see two more sonatas and two more concertos out through next week, and there’s a 100% chance of Beethoven in both of my readers’ futures, so stay tuned for that, and thanks so much for reading.