performed by Mitsuko Uchida, or below by Krystian Zimerman
(cover image by Tim Mossholder)
As if we didn’t have enough Mozart last year, with week after week of his music, we’re going to see his name yet a few more times in the next week or two. We’ll begin with the first sonata of the latter half of his output; we’ve already discussed up to no. 9 of his 18. The ninth has a catalogue number of 311, and this one 330, but there’s almost seven years between the composition of these two pieces, and I think that’s noticeable.
Mozart’s tenth piano sonata was completed in 1783 and published the following year. By this time he was 27 years old, so no more of this young composer business. He’s a fully mature, marvelously talented composer and we can see his piano sonatas reflecting not just a sense of musical maturity, but to me, more personal maturity, emotional depth and substance.
The work is in three movements, as follows, with a playing time of about 18 minutes:
- Allegro moderato
- Andante cantabile
The first movement is in sonata form with the exposition repeated, as well as the development and recapitulation. The second of the two themes of the first movement is much longer, with parts of its own before a codetta; the second part of this second subject makes use of triplet figures. Tonic-chord.com tells us that there is “no real working of previous material,” but goes through keys like A minor, F major, D minor, before hitting the recapitulation. These two sections together can be repeated, but whether they are or not, the movement is light, dainty, so beautifully elegant and understated. The development doesn’t really present any intense conflict or tension, making for a really easy, natural, refreshing and deeply pleasing first movement.
The second movement is in ternary form, with the first section in two parts, F major, then C major. We visit Gm, then back to F for this first section. The central part is presented in Fm and A flat major. This ternary structure, with each section in multiple parts, moving back and forth between keys, is really quite simple, but so beautiful, and following the score, very easily, I find myself getting lost, not in repeats and returns, but in the emotional landscape. There is a teeny coda before the finale.
The finale is also in sonata form, but contains a longer, more substantial transition passage between the two subjects. The development here is very brief, and also quite independent from everything else. What is really breathtaking to me in this otherwise quite simple movement is the interplay of treble and bass voices, with such vividness and clarity. Wait for the bass voice to boom out of nowhere, surprising but not out of place. Both subjects reappear in the tonic, and this shortest of the three movements rounds out this marvelous, delightful, mature sonata.
It’s so clear here, at least to me, that the composer’s development is, again, not in musical skill. He had plenty of that from the get-go, but the refinement of ideas and I guess just a general finesse is what’s so outstanding. He sounds less like a precocious musician, and more like the adult who would give such inspiration to people like Schubert and others for so many years. It’s really exceptionally delightful.
There’s an exuberance here that’s still very Classical-era, not the heavy-handed Romantic intensity of Beethoven or Brahms, but it is still invigorating and exciting in such a refined way. It may seem simple, but each listen reveals, at least to me, just a little bit more to savor.