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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Vienna: a relationship that appears perfectly obvious and logical at first since Mozart
is widely regarded as the main protagonist of the Viennese Classical movement. Yet Mozart in Vienna encompasses a time
span of merely ten years from 1781 to his death in this city in 1791. Relocating to Vienna was important to Mozart in two aspects: he gained freedom from his feudalist chains as court organist and concertmaster for the Archbishop Hieronymus von Colloredo of Salzburg; and furthermore he was able to cut the umbilical chord to his father, Leopold Mozart. Now Mozart lived the life of an independent artist in Vienna, relieved of prior servile obligations. Another crucial step towards self-reliance was his marriage to Constanze Weber in Vienna in August 1782 at St. Stephan's Cathedral. But what was Mozart's actual motivation to move his life from his hometown Salzburg to Vienna?
Archbishop Colloredo travelled to Vienna in early 1781, and since he was keen on presenting himself in the most glamorous fashion, adorned with a force of servants and equipment, he also brought along some of his best musicians as part of his courtly entourage. Therefore Mozart, who was staying in Augsburg at the time, was summoned to Vienna in the middle of March. He complied immediately. The 'arch-rascal' had rejected Mozart's desire for a solo concert. Things became increasingly difficult, and two heated confrontations lead to the final discord with the Archbishop. Mozart quit his service in Salzburg on June 8th 1781 and settled in Vienna.
The start in Vienna was most promising: '...my good fortune is now about to begin', Mozart wrote to his father in Salzburg. 'P.S. I assure you this is a splendid place, and for my profession the best place in the world.' Mozart's 'profession': not only music in general, but the art of the piano in particular which here he was able to deliver to an abundance of students. '...My phase of art is so much liked here, that I feel I am on a sure basis. This is certainly the Pianoforte land!' He engaged in an almost manic productivity (nearly half his oeuvre originates from his ten Vienna years) and became increasingly established in Viennese society.
Mozart was an exceptionally gifted pianist. His pianistic battle with Muzio Clementi is in the history books of music: initiated by Emperor Joseph II. This musical showdown took place at the Vienna Hofburg on December 24th 1781. The combatants were required to perform their own works as well as prove their skills in sight-reading and free improvisation. Which pieces Mozart might have performed has not been accounted for; yet one could imagine him turning to a Fantasy on such an occasion, possibly similar to the Fantasy in D minor, K.397 which is included in this recording. This remarkably expressive and touching piece from 1782 resembles a miniature opera with its alternating arioso and recitative episodes. It is comprised of two parts: Adagio (d minor) and Allegretto (D major). Mozart left the piece unfinished by a few bars, the abrupt final chords were added later (presumably by August Eberhard Müller). The Fantasy in D minor is a splendid example of Mozart's command of improvisation, yet it is equally impressive in formal aspects by its coherence and the masterful framing of minor and major parts.
By 1783 Mozart had established himself in Vienna as a pianist, conductor and composer. He organised numerous concerts for himself, and in the first half of 1783 managed to host no less than six such 'academies'. In a letter to his father Mozart recounts his concert on March 23rd 1783: 'I need not tell you much about the success of my concert, for no doubt you have already heard of it. Suffice it to say that the theatre could not have been more crowded, and every box was full. What gratified me most was the Emperor being present, who gave me great applause.' The audience in the Old Court Theatre demanded an encore, '... so I played variations on the aria, "Unser dummer Pöbel meint", from The Pilgrimme von Mekka [by Gluck]'. This marks the origin of the Ten Variations in G Major, K. 455 which Mozart put to paper not until a year later in August 1784. An aria from Gluck's comic opera The Pilgrims from Mecca serves as the main theme: a dervish makes fun of the pious people gullibly trusting his Order's vow of poverty. Gluck's 'Turkish opera' was a popular piece in Vienna at that time and provided musical inspiration for Mozart's opera Die Entführung aus dem Serail. In his Ten Variations Mozart shrouds Gluck's witty plump melody in humorous counterpoint, daring harmonies, trills and shimmering soundscapes.
'Rondò di W. A. Mozart il 11 Marzo 1787' is the autograph inscription for a solitary piece of deep inner significance for Mozart. His Rondo in A minor, K. 511 came about in between the composition of Figaro and his new opera Don Giovanni. Mozart's public performances were on a steep decline. The Rondo signifies his turning away from the stage; it is an intimate piece of chamber music for solo piano, full of melancholy, poetry and confession. The different sections vary between the light and shadow of minor and major. A continuous 6/8 time signature suggests a Siciliano which appears transfigured and iridescent, a similar effect as in the F-sharp minor Adagio from his Piano Concerto in A Major, K. 488. The intense ascending chromatic line of the main theme dominates the course of events; two middle sections in F major and A major bring a hint of hope before the material is condensed into a coda of muted resignation. We get a deeper look into Mozart's soul in this passage from a letter to his father, written only three weeks later:
'As death (when closely considered) is the true goal of our life, I have made myself so thoroughly acquainted with this good and faithful friend of man, that not only has its image no longer anything alarming to me, but rather something most peaceful and consolatory; and I thank my heavenly Father that He has vouchsafed to grant me the happiness, and has given me the opportunity, (you understand me,) to learn that it is the hey to our true felicity. I never lie down at night without thinking that (young as I am) I may be no more before the next morning dawns. And yet not one of all those who know me can say that I ever was morose or melancholy in my intercourse with them. I daily thank my Creator for such a happy frame of mind, and wish from my heart that every one of my fellow-creatures may enjoy the same.'
At the end of the 18th century composers were widely interested in combining the old master's art of polyphony with their modern 'gallant' style. Trying to integrate the complex counterpoint techniques into an elegant and plain composition was the main challenge. Mozart accomplished this feat impressively in his last two sonatas, dating from 1789. Finished in February, the Sonata No. 17 in B-flat Major, K. 570 is the more sober of the two and represents a late style of utmost serenity. The two themes in the first movement are identical, therefore any dramatic contrast is eliminated. In return we get a development generously endowed with contrapuntal finesse, including double counterpoint. Thirds, fifths and sixths shape the second movement with their imitation of a noble vision, an atmosphere only disrupted by a sad solitary C minor section. The reductionist Rondo Finale comes along quite minimalist, evoking an oddly humorous mood that recalls final movements by Mozart's friend Joseph Haydn.
The same year Mozart was informed that the Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm II was an avid cellist and entertained a luxurious court orchestra. Mozart did not hesitate and hoping for new means of income, he travelled to Potsdam to audition for the King. His Majesty's reaction has not been recorded. However it is for certain that Mozart received commissions for new pieces which he mentioned in a letter to his Freemason friend, Michael von Puchberg: '...meanwhile I am writing 6 easy Piano Sonatas for the Princess Friederika and 6 Quartets for the King, which I will order Kozeluch to print at my own expenses; besides I expect the 2 dedications to be profitable for me'. Only three of the six quartets were finished (K. 575, 589, 590) and only one of the six sonatas, his final sonata, Sonata in D Major, K. 576, which was completed in Vienna in July 1789. Mozart's intent of writing easy sonatas for the princess caused astonishment, since K.576 became his pianistically most demanding sonata. Commanding the technical difficulties without losing a light and playful sound is a challenging task in itself, but even more daunting is mastering its polyphonic style. In 1782, his friend Gottfried van Swieten had introduced Mozart to the works of Bach and Handel in Vienna and he continued to study them with great care and devotion. From this perspective the Sonata in D Major - even more so than the Sonata in B flat Major - presents itself as the solution for the compositional problems Mozart was dealing with at that time. The piece is mainly shaped in two-part linearity (resembling a suite by Bach) which Mozart works into one of his characteristically transparent compositions. In addition he creates space for lyrical moments: the Adagio's melody blossoms between the outer movements with a long and peaceful breath.
© Gottlieb Wallisch, 2010
(Translation by Gero Mertens)
Recorded at St George's, Bristol, UK: 5th-7th August 2009
Produced and engineered by Philip Hobbs
Post-production by Julia Thomas, Finesplice, UK
Design by John Haxby