Mozart Piano Sonata no. 9 in D, K. 311

performed by Dame Mitsuko Uchida

(cover image by Aaron Burden)

We jump ahead a few years, around where we were last week, in 1777, although this work wasn’t published until 1782. The ninth sonata was composed in Augsburg and Mannheim in late 1777. There seems to be some confusion here, being that this work was actually completed earlier than the A minor sonata (K. 310), but is given a later number (in both the sequence of sonatas and the catalogue). In fact, in Fazıl Say’s box set of these recordings, the track listing has the numbers reversed, so that no. 8 is in D and no. 9 is in A minor, leading to some confusion on my part.

The work, like the A minor sonata, is in three movements, and has a duration of about 15 or 16 minutes:

  1. Allegro con spirito
  2. Andante con espressione
  3. Rondeau: Allegro

The first movement is in sonata form, beginning with an ebullient, extroverted, sunny D major theme. It has struck me in these works around the mid-to-late 1770s that the sheer joy and beauty in listening to Mozart’s work is akin to that feeling you get when you meet a stranger who you quickly feel like you’ve known your entire life. There are still surprises and things to learn about the person, but there’s also this sense of comforting familiarity, that this is somehow just exactly how things should be, or always have been.

The second subject of the first movement calms slightly, like a cloud that dims the sun rather than occludes it entirely. Relative to the first movement, it’s played with an ‘inside voice,’ and there is a closing little ‘tail’ to the entire exposition that brings us to the repeat. The second time around though, this little thought, which strikes a listener the first time as being suitable content for development, does in fact get used in the development. This first movement isn’t all that long, even with the exposition repeat, but it feels full, complete, which is very satisfying.

The second movement is in G major, episodic in form with a coda.It is largely delicate and quiet, with a single, piercing (at least relative to the rest of the landscape) climax, but is largely soft and dreamy, pastoral, with some shades of darker areas.

The finale, a sonata rondo form, returns to the exuberance of the opening movement. It’s bold and confident, giving me the sense again that this is far from being some homework assignment; the now 22-ish-year-old Mozart is finding (or perhaps finally expressing) his own voice. The writing is clearly more virtuosic, but also immaculately tasteful. This is the longest, most elaborate movement of the sonata, and even with the passage in B minor, or perhaps as a result of it, the sense of joy is all the more accentuated. The movement also contains a cadenza-like passage.

The work is peaceful, deeply pleasing. The satisfaction here is partially, at least to my ear (or soul), due to the restraint or understatement in the same way that you may want just one more bite of a dish at a fine restaurant. This doesn’t represent any insufficiency, but just enough restraint to get you wanting just slightly more. Our (not as) young composer doesn’t indulge frivolously, even in the finale, and it makes for such a tasteful, rewarding listen.

Fret not. There are only two Mozart pieces left in this little stretch before we move on to someone else, but we may or may not be seeing a very long stretch of Mozart works later this year as a bit of housekeeping, catching up to what I’ll be posting later this week. It will (or may) make sense later on. Stay tuned for all that, and thanks so much for reading.

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