This double CD offers us an extraordinary glimpse into Mozart’s pianism and the evolution of his creative style. Indeed, when discussing Mozart, a risk frequently comes to the fore. Given the very short span of his earthly life, the precocity of his talent and comparative maturity of his early works, one might gather the false impression that Mozart underwent no real stylistic evolution. Whilst Beethoven’s “three periods” are so trite a commonplace of musicology that many advocate a new approach to the periodisation of Beethoven’s style, in Mozart’s case the boundaries are hardly defined, and those unfamiliar with the finesses of his oeuvre might easily consider his output as a unified whole.
It is true, indeed, that there is a much less pronounced difference between works composed by Mozart in his late teens and before his death than between those written by Beethoven as a youth or as a mature man. But it is also true that Mozart, as all true artists, never quit experimenting new ways, or absorbing the best of what happened around him in musical terms. And what happened around him was not limited to what the theatres or concert halls were offering: a perceptive and curious musician such as Mozart was highly interested and stimulated by all kinds of “good” music, ranging from the freshness of the popular tunes he heard on the Viennese roads, and which would make their way into the Magic Flute, up to the masterpieces of early polyphony, as was the case with Allegri’s Miserere heard by a young Mozart at the Sistine Chapel in Rome. Mozart’s prodigious memory could retain complex works after just one hearing. In so doing, it became an immense repository of musical ideas, some of which were creatively interwoven (at times, probably, unconsciously) within his own compositions.
One encounter which deeply marked Mozart’s style and musical thought was that with the Baroque masters. It was an encounter mediated by Baron Gottfried van Swieten, a wealthy and cultivated music lover and one of Mozart’s patrons. Swieten had a remarkable collection of manuscripts, mainly connected with the German late Baroque era. At Mozart’s time, music was contemporary by definition. Only at church did ancient tunes resound, and (but only sporadically) polyphonic works at times resurfaced from a sea of concertante, style galante sacred music. Mozart had grown up in the style galante atmosphere, and had contributed to fashioning the more serious Classical style. Its linear, balanced forms were very well suited for his particular inspiration, even though a closer look to his compositional style reveals that he frequently enjoyed breaking the rules and inserting unexpected surprises in the midst of a clear-cut architecture. The discovery of the Baroque, however, changed dramatically his perspective on composition. He had not been entirely unfamiliar with the Baroque repertoire, but had not been particularly interested in it. Swieten’s collection rekindled this interest, and provided him with countless examples of masterly compositions from which, as he frankly admitted, he had plenty to learn. Moreover, as Mozart himself tells us, his wife Constanze had become in turn enthralled by Baroque polyphony, and warmly encouraged him to study it and to write, in turn, something in that line.
Nourished at the abundant musical meals provided by Swieten (whom Mozart wittily nicknamed Suiten, since many of the pieces found in Swieten’s collection were in fact Suites), Mozart tried his hand in some fake-Baroque works. On the one hand, Mozart’s own compositions in this style do not stand comparisons with either his own best works, or the best works of the “true” Baroque composers. On the other, they are still the masterpieces of a master; and, moreover, they provided him with the necessary background for integrating the Baroque art of polyphony within his own style, as would happen, for example, in the Jupiter Symphony or in the Requiem, to cite but two.
It has also to be said that these works, many of which are very little known outside the restricted circle of Mozart specialists, are perfectly suited for performance on the clavichord. This instrument was the favourite “composer’s instrument” for both Bach and Mozart, and therefore it represents the ideal setting where these pieces were written and first performed. A public performance was simply out of the question, even though pieces such as the Modulierendes Präludium might have made their way to a public or semipublic venue, but only as the introduction to something closer to the audience’s taste. This piece is a written testimony of Mozart’s most fanciful improvisations, and really resembles the most daring Fantasias of the early Baroque era. The Prelude and Fugue KV 394, together with the unfinished Suite KV 399, belong in a series of works explicitly conceived for Swieten. Both Prelude and Fugue reveal, on the one hand, that Mozart wished to follow rather closely the example of the revered Baroque masters, but, on the other, that he was not afraid of experimenting on his own. The relatively uncomplicated key of C major and the precision with which Mozart follows the dictates of proper fugue-writing bear witness to the slight foreignness felt by Mozart when moving on Bach’s terrain. At the same time, unexpected and courageous modulations vivify what could otherwise have become an exercise, and enliven it with bold inspiration. The Suite KV 399 was intended as a homage to Handel’s own Suites, and should have included five movements: a French overture, and the traditional Allemande, Courante, Sarabande and Gigue. Of these, only the first three were completed and are recorded here; some sketches for the Sarabande survive and the Gigue, as far as we know, was never written.
The fruits of Mozart’s close and creative study of the Baroque language are in fact clearly observable in his more traditional output. For instance, a comparison between the “late” Sonata KV 570, written by the composer two years before his death, and the earlier Sonata KV 282, dating from his late teens, reveals very clearly the stylistic evolution we had been discussing above. In KV 570 we observe a seemingly simple and uncomplicated style, without excessive technical demands; yet, the texture is deceptively easy, and is constantly crossed by polyphonic ideas. Here, polyphony is never an exercise in compositional technique: rather, it has been fully absorbed within the composer’s own style, and has become one of the many colours in his rich palette.
Both Sonata KV 282 and KV 570, however, have something in common, including their purpose as “portfolio” works on the occasion of two of Mozart’s journey. Mozart wrote KV 282 before leaving for Munich in early 1775. In the Bavarian city, Mozart would have his La finta giardiniera premiered, but was very happy to present himself also as a valiant keyboard virtuoso. Thus he wrote a handful of works, possibly revising some earlier sketches, and certainly taking Haydn’s Sonatas as their close model. In the case of Sonata KV 570, the purpose was rather different: its comparative simplicity was deliberately chosen in order not to make it too difficult for its intended recipient, the eldest daughter of the Prussian King Frederick William II, to whose court Mozart travelled in 1789. It was one of the many periods of dire financial straits, for Mozart, and he clearly hoped to obtain employment, or at least patronage, from the King. Again for the purpose of earning what was needed by his young family, Mozart collated two newly-composed movements to an earlier Rondo, thus creating the composite Sonata KV 533-494. Here again the powerful influence of the music studied by Mozart at van Swieten’s becomes clear: whilst the first two movement (which are the most recent ones) clearly reveal a richly polyphonic concept, the Rondo – in spite of its undeniable and charming beauty – evidently lies behind them in stylistic terms.
Though practically coeval with KV 282, the remaining Sonata among those recorded here, i.e. KV 284, is a more forward-looking work, with an ample size and complex concept. It was dedicated to Baron von Dürnitz, an aristocrat Mozart met during the stay in Munich for which he had prepared KV 282. It is perhaps the best keyboard work written by Mozart before his twentieth birthday. It has a majestic first movement, with a rich, almost orchestral texture, and, at the same time, an operatic concept. It seems to announce some atmospheres which would become fully actual in the Marriage of Figaro, many years later.
The second movement is a rare example of a Polonaise en Rondeau, which, once more, demonstrates that Mozart’s interest for the music of another time or place was not unique for his later years. Finally, the concluding theme with variations is one of the most exquisite examples in this genre ever written by Mozart, if not the best. Mozart frequently wrote his most interesting Variation cycles when employing his own theme rather than one excerpted from other composer’s successful operas or famous tunes. Here, the delicate Theme undergoes an impressive series of transformations in mood, texture, technique, and style, giving life to a dozen Variations each with its own, clear personality. The alternation between the ironic or comical and the seriously polyphonic is abundantly present here, as in the other masterpieces by Mozart. This demonstrates that the “Swieten turn”, if we wish so to call it, was not a total change of attitude, but rather an opportunity Mozart happily took to know better a language which he had practised from his earliest youth.
Chiara Bertoglio © 2022
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.