Official release: 16 April 2021
Every platitude contains a grain of truth (and possibly this very sentence is a platitude). In piano teaching, it is common to instruct pupils to imagine orchestral colours when performing the works by Beethoven, to imagine the articulation of a German Lied when performing those by Schubert, and to imagine operatic music when playing Mozart. Undoubtedly, the importance of the operatic world and concept for Mozart was such that it did inspire his musical ideas even when he was playing a keyboard Concerto or writing a Sonata; therefore, the advice is sound and may provide budding Mozarteans with fruitful creative stimuli.
Operatic elements, such as dramatic atmospheres, characterized musical personae, miniaturized operatic genres and metrical structures typical for the Italian or German libretto poetry can be found also in the three works recorded in this Da Vinci Classics album. However, at least two of these works (i.e. KV 457 and 475) are not “typical Mozart”, and suggest to modern hearers powerful Bachian reminiscences and equally powerful Beethovenian anticipations. These suggestions are not historically absurd: at the time of their composition, Mozart had been studying Bach’s works for some time, and Beethoven would be familiar with Mozart’s works and may well have been inspired by those which resonated most closely with his own personality and style.
Arguably, Sonata KV 330 does not qualify as either “post-Bachian” or “pre-Beethovenian”. Here we find quintessential Mozart, to the point that some of its traits may appear as more royalist than the king. In other words, those unsympathetic with Mozart’s aesthetics might easily find Mozartean stereotypes in this work, or criticize it for adhering too strictly to the style galante conventions. It is a comparatively short Sonata, and rather undemanding on the purely technical plane; thus, it has been argued that it had been conceived primarily for Mozart’s students, and possibly for publication with an eye for the market of competent amateurs. It is in the “simple” key of C major, and its opening theme, accompanied by tranquil semiquavers by the left hand, is extremely symmetrical, consisting of four phrases of two or four bars each, and built in such a way that each second phrase echoes and mirrors the first.
This seeming simplicity, of course, is deceptive. Firstly, such a “naked” texture requires the utmost mastery of the keyboard: the performer must be able to control the finest and lightest nuances of touch, articulation and volume, in order to infuse in it the “speaking” quality it requires. Moreover, the very symmetry of the musical phrases reveals the operatic concept behind it: it is in fact possible to lay regular verses under the notes, and thus transform this relatively simple opening into a coquettish aria for a shrewd maid on the model of Susanna. This explains also the changes in tone and mood which give variety and capriciousness to the free and spontaneous flowing of the melodic ideas; the “singer’s” personality admits a large palette of feelings, none of which is too serious, but which may encompass tenderness, passion, humour and wit.
Thus, the numerous appoggiaturas sound to our ears like graceful and slightly malicious gestures, while the frequent staccatos highlight the soprano’s mastery of picchettato sounds. The third theme of the exposition is the most contrasted of this first movement: here stark oppositions of sound are found (in the form of fp or sfp), and they reveal Mozart’s feeling for drama and pathos, even within the context of an evident comedy. The development (which is not properly a development, since it contains entirely new material) is the most intense and pathetic section of the movement, with its use of chromatic passages, broken phrases and, above all, syncopations which translate into musical notation a singer’s spontaneous and expressive rubato.
The second movement, Andante cantabile, is a gem of enchanted beauty, and it is clearly indebted to operatic models even in its metrical structure. It has been suggested to add the words of the aria Pupille amate from Lucio Silla to this theme: the words fit perfectly with both the structure and the style of this instrumental aria. Within the movement, a touching section in the minor mode is found. The despondent phrases, in pianissimo (but reaching a forte on the top note) are set against a dark tremolo-like accompaniment by the bass; here the performance on the clavichord will bring the pulsating quality of this moment into light as no fortepiano or piano can do.
The third movement is a spirited Allegretto in the Sonata form, technically more demanding than the first and with orchestral effects in the accompaniment. Musical gestures inspired by vocal models are however abundantly found, both in the melismatic passages, and in the bouncing staccato scales which constitute a classical topos of vocal virtuosity. The development, opening on a straightforward and unproblematic symmetrical phrase, continues in an increasingly flirtatious fashion, until the recapitulation is introduced through delightfully coy sighs.
None of this is found in the pair made of Fantasy KV 475 and Sonata KV 457. Both works are in the same key of C minor, but whereas C major may be accused of excessive simplicity, C minor is a complex key reserved by Mozart for the most tragic and pathetic moments of his entire output. These two pieces were published jointly as op. 11 in 1785, even though the Sonata had been composed independently the previous year. While the Fantasy is clearly conceived as a dramatic prelude to the Sonata, in turn it is a self-standing composition which may be played by itself.
Here stereotypes are very hard to find, and those who love the “quintessential Mozart” may be surprised and even disconcerted by this pair (as probably happened to his contemporaries). At the same time, these pieces are no less genuinely Mozartean than Sonata KV 330; drama, disquietude, darkness and doubt are found in Mozart’s output not less frequently than humour, light-heartedness and irony.
The Fantasia, as is common for works in this genre, is composed of seemingly unrelated sections, with improvisatory passages and sudden changes of mood. However, and also in comparison with the other two surviving examples by Mozart, it is more clearly structured and powerfully built, and includes even a return of the opening theme towards the conclusion.
This opening theme could not be less “vocal”: it is made of dissonant intervals, it wanders among the keys with an impressive disregard for the good manners of traditional harmony, and is obsessively repeated by both hands plunging the texture to the very lower limits of the keyboard. A hint of comedy is found in the second theme, in D major, which includes some moments of elegant charm and irony. In the following Allegro, however, the menacing and troubled atmosphere returns, introduced by trombone-like calls of the bass and diminished chords performed in tremolo by the right hand. Other lyrical sections follow, before and after a virtuoso Cadenza (with two splendid themes in F and in B-flat major), while a further Più Allegro brings a stormy and thunderous deluge of notes which only gradually disappears into silence; the conclusion, citing the opening theme, is entirely dominated by tragedy, and finishes on a C-minor scale which Beethoven certainly knew and remembered when he wrote his Third Piano Concerto.
Similar qualities are found in the Sonata, whose first theme contrasts two opposing characters: a bold and almost arrogant musical persona asserting ascending triadic arpeggios, and a pleading response of a weaker but more expressive mould. The second theme is built as an operatic duet, whereby the right hand plays both characters over a quiet accompaniment by the left hand. The transition between development and recapitulation is similar to that between Più Allegro and Tempo I in the Fantasia: broken phrases leading to silence, before tragedy returns.
The second movement is clearly inspired by a solo aria by a leading character: a beautiful singing theme, provided by Mozart with a wealth of ornamentations typical for the virtuoso vocal style. However, they never conflict with the intense expressivity and never pollute the depth and concentration of the vocal line.
As had happened in the other Sonata, Mozart wrote down explicitly his intended rubato when he clearly wanted it: the concluding Allegro assai opens with a systematic asynchronisation of the performer’s hands, as the right hand anticipates or follows the beat marked by the left. Here, the musical language has entirely lost the symmetry and (one might say) predictability of the C-major Sonata: broken phrases, interrupted sentences, non-sequiturs abound, and the result is a movement of unforgettable pathos.
Mozart’s two souls are therefore beautifully signified in this album: as every genius, he could find both the graceful balance and harmony of perfection, and the daring exploration of the dark unknown. He was at ease both in the Apollonian elegance of an exquisite refinement and in the almost savage depiction of a pre-Romantic conflict; and, needless to say, he left masterpieces in both languages, as this album clearly testifies.
Album Notes by Chiara Bertoglio
De Cecco, Giovanni (Clavichordist), He studied privately with Venetian organist Maestro Giovanni Ferrari, and then graduated in piano from the “Benedetto Marcello” Conservatory in Venice with Anna Barutti. Meanwhile he graduated in Philosophy from the “Ca’Foscary” University of the same city.
He started his musical career with ethnomusicological journeys following Bela Bartók’s footsteps in Romania, studying Romanian nd Hungarian traditional music.
He is a passionate player of historical keyboards, primarily clavichord, above all of the galant style and Sturm und Drang repertoire.
He has performed in Germany, Hungary, Austria, Romania, Italy, Sweden, Czech Republic, Iran, Turkey, the United States, Japan, Thailand, Cambodia, Hong Kong.
He combines his activity as a concert performer with his work as a teacher in numerous master classes, especially in Asia.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: (b Salzburg, 27 Jan 1756; d Vienna, 5 Dec 1791). Austrian composer, son of Leopold Mozart. His style essentially represents a synthesis of many different elements, which coalesced in his Viennese years, from 1781 on, into an idiom now regarded as a peak of Viennese Classicism. The mature music, distinguished by its melodic beauty, its formal elegance and its richness of harmony and texture, is deeply coloured by Italian opera though also rooted in Austrian and south German instrumental traditions. Unlike Haydn, his senior by 24 years, and Beethoven, his junior by 15, he excelled in every medium current in his time. He may thus be regarded as the most universal composer in the history of Western music.