Recorded April 1983
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In the context of Mozart's complete works, the piano sonata does not occupy the central position enjoyed by the piano concerto. There are external reasons for this. In his concerts in Vienna the public expected Mozart, the famous pianist, to perform a piano concerto and a free fantasia. The piano sonata, on the other hand, was a form intended rather for the amateur musician performing at home, or sometimes as musical material for use in piano lessons, Mozart, who gave tuition in noble circles, doubtless played his mature piano sonatas there to a limited group of people or even, perhaps, allowed them to be studied by his pupils. Finally, the sonata was seen as an object which could be dedicated to chosen people, thereby bringing profitable returns.
Thus the B flat major Sonata, K. 570, which Mozart wrote in February 1789, probably resulted from his previous visit to the Prussian court and was presumably intended for the eldest princess. The apparently unassuming work is distinguished by its very fine construction. Thus, for example, the main theme of the first movement (Allegro) comes back again as a kind of second subsidiary theme, provided with a counter melody, which then appears in the development in double counterpoint. Even the casually constructed rondo finale (Allegretto) touches upon the art of double counterpoint. Moreover, all this is done with such mastery that the degree of finesse is scarcely noticed by either listener of performer, and sometimes assumes humorous characteristics in the finale. The lovely E flat major Adagio, with its cantabile main theme is, on the other hand, an example of Mozart's "singing" piano style.
The great Sonata in D, K. 576 dates from the same year. Mozart wrote it in July on his return from a journey to North Germany and Berlin which had also taken him to Leipzig, where he had once again encountered the art of Bach. The main theme of the first movement (Allegro), appearing at first like an innocent hunting motif, is subjected to numerous canonic and imitative complications which allow the contrasting second subject to withdraw completely into the background. They dominate the exposition and recapitulation to such an extent that hardly any intensification is possible in the development section, which is based essentially on the combination of the main theme with runs of semiquavers. Polyphonic formations in the spirit of Bach can be found in the rondo finale, whose apparently simple Allegretto theme is furnished immediately with a counter melody in triplets. Imitative interlacing figures and canons of the most varied types determine to a large extent the course of the movement without detracting in any way from the cheerful, playful character of the music. The synthesis of ingenious construction and sparkling lightness reaches its apotheosis in this, Mozart's last and technically most demanding piano sonata. The richly ornamented Adagio has only one counterpart in the whole of the composer's solo piano music: the wonderful Adagio in B minor, K. 540 from the year 1788. In its melodic urgency, its harmonic variety, its richness of expressive inner voices, and its cantabile line achieved at times by crossing the hands, this work in B minor, ending peacefully in D major, counts among the most beautiful gifts Mozart bestowed upon the piano.
translation: Anthony Whitehurst