Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in 1756, the youngest child and only surviving son of Leopold Mozart. distinguished as the author of a book on violin-playing, published in the year of his son's birth, and a member of the music establishment of the ruling Archbishop of Salzburg. Leopold Mozart soon realised that his son had exceptional gifts and saw it as his duty to do everything to foster these, sacrificing his own career as a composer to do so. He was appointed Vice Kapellmeister in Salzburg, a position he retained until his death in 1787.
As a boy Mozart travelled widely, performing as a keyboard-player, with his eider sister Nannerl, before kings and queens, the nobility and the merely curious throughout Europe, demonstrating not only precocious technical accomplishments but his growing ability as a composer, at first in improvisation, a necessary part of his art. He also played the violin, an instrument of which he made little later serious professional use once he had left Salzburg. Journeys to Italy widened still further Mozart's experience, with commissions for operas in Milan, then under Austrian suzerainty. Adolescence in Salzburg, where a new Archbishop had succeeded the family's earlier, more indulgent patron in 1772, was frustrating. The new Archbishop, a supporter of the ecclesiastical reforms of the Emperor, had clear ideas of the duties of those in his service, with the result that Mozart, denied permission to travel, in 1777 resigned in order to seek his fortune elsewhere, a process that brought musical but not material benefit, as he dawdled in Mannheim and tried to prove himself in Paris. Early in 1779, his ambitions unsatisfied, he returned to Salzburg, still as Konzertmeister, but with the additional position of court organist.
Late in 1780 Mozart was in Munich for the production of his opera Idomeneo, commissioned by the Elector and involving many of his friends from Mannheim. From there he was summoned to Vienna to join his patron but deprived of w hat he saw as an opportunity for advancement in the service of the Emperor, he quarrelled openly with the Archbishop and was dismissed. For the next ten years he remained in Vienna, distinguishing himself at first as a performer, a composer and as a teacher, but finding increasing difficulties in supporting himself and the dowerless wife he had taken in 1782 from an income that was variable, as fashions came and went.
The decade in Vienna gave Mozart the opportunity he had long desired in the opera-house, with a successful German opera in 1772, the Singspiel Die Entf�hrung aus dem Serail, followed by the Italian operas Le nozze di Figaro in 1786 and Don Giovanni in the following year. 1790 brought Cost fan tutte and 1791 the opera seria La clemenza di Tito and the German Singspiel Die Zauberfl�te, a magic opera that was drawing audiences at a suburban theatre at the time of the composer's sudden death on 5th December. Vienna allowed Mozart a further opportunity as a composer and performer with a series of piano concertos included in subscription concerts he arranged, while he was in endless demand, particularly in his earlier years in the capital, as a keyboard-player in private and public concerts.
The later 18th century brought, among many other technical developments, a change in keyboard instruments in domestic and concert use. The harpsichord, the principal instrument in domestic and concert use, was gradually replaced by the fortepiano, with its hammer action and increased dynamic range. The instruments that Mozart used were capable of the most delicate articulation, more limited in range than the modern pianoforte, but representing the highest technical achievement of makers such as Stein and Walter, the former of whom, who had experimented with a coupled fortepiano-cum-harpsichord, made for Mozart a pedal fortepiano, valued in his estate of 80 florins, less than a third of his outstanding tailor's bill.
Mozart entered the C Minor Sonata, K. 457, in his own catalogue of compositions on 14th October 1784. The C Minor Fantasia, K. 475, was entered on 20th May 1785. The first published edition, however, issued by Artaria and advertised on 5th December 1785, announces a Fantaisie et Sonata Pour le Fortepiano and is dedicated to Madame Therese de Trattnern, the wife of Mozart's then landlord in Vienna, Johann Thomas von Trattner, and a pupil of Mozart. The Fantasia, at least, seems to have formed part of the composer's programme at his concert in Leipzig on 12th May 1789, an event that brought applause and glory but little material profit. The coupling of Fantasia and Sonata was clearly not on I y sanctioned by Mozart but represented his original intention, as is apparent from the musical connection between the two.
The Fantasia, recalling in more than its choice of key the great C minor Piano Concerto, opens with a dramatic slow introduction. Leading through various shifts of key to an Allegro, a B flat Andantino and a conclusion that returns to the key and material of the opening. The following sonata, possibly the greatest of Mozart's keyboard sonatas, and one that leads the way to a completely new approach to the form, opens with the notes of the triad, poignantly answered. There is major slow movement with a principal theme worthy of Figaro's Countess and passages of technical virtuosity, leading to a C minor final rondo that avoids any temptation to follow the convention of a change to the major mode in its conclusion and explores the lowest ranges of the instrument, its principal theme framing episodes contrasting in key and character. The Fantasia and Sonata come at the height of Mozart's career as a performer, a fact that accounts for the technical demands made on the player and for the depth of feeling implicit in the musical contents of the work.
The A major Sonata, K. 331, belongs to a brighter world and is among the best known of Mozart's keyboard sonatas. Its first movement theme has found its way even into orchestral repertoire with Max Reger's monumental Variations and Fugue on a theme of Mozart while the last has enjoyed an independent existence under the hands of many a tiro and was even used by the composer's friends Stephen Storace in his pasticcio opera The Siege of Belgrade, staged at Drury Lane in London in 1791. In a letter completed on 12th June 1784 and written from Vienna to his father in Salzburg Mozart mentions a set of three keyboard sonatas that he had earlier sent home to his sister and that were then being engraved by the publisher Artaria, who advertised them for sale in August of the same year. It is thought that the sonatas were written either in Vienna or in Salzburg during the course of 1783 rather than at any earlier date.
The gentle pastoral lilt of the theme of the first movement of the A major Sonata is followed by six variations that include a third in the key of A minor, a fourth with hand-crossing, a very considerable feature of the C minor Sonata, a fifth Adagio and a final Allegro. The second movement is a Minuet, with a D major Trio, and this is followed by the famous Rondo alla Turca, a form of popular exoticism that bears little relation to the kind of music Vienna under Turkish siege had heard at its gates a hundred years before.
The twelve variations on the French song Ah, vous dirai-je Maman, K.265, were probably written during Mozart's stay in Paris in 1778, one of three such sets of variations based on French themes at that time. Improvised variations were a standard element in any performer's repertoire and some of the sets of Mozart variations are known to have been improvised in the first instance. The song Ah, vous dirai-je Maman, well known in Paris at least since 1761, is better known to English-speaking listeners as Twinkle, twinkle, little star, and in any case bears a remarkable similarity to the nursery rhyme Baa, baa, black sheep. Under any name it was among the most popular melodies for variation in the later 18th century. Mozart's variations include, as they should, a minor variation, the eighth of the set, an Adagio, the eleventh, and a final Allegro.
Reviewsa clean, bright piano image - Penguin Guide