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Mozart's Approach to Sonata form - Part 1

Mozart's Approach to Sonata form - Part 1

The sonata is a very popular form of musical composition that varied greatly in style until what was known as the Classical era. It is a form that consists of between two and four movements, composed in a related key. Typically sonatas are written for a solo instrument, or perhaps two instruments, such as a piano and a flute. The term sonata is similar to cantata; the difference being that cantata means ‘a piece sung,’ whereas a sonata is a piece that is played by an instrument. However, there also seems to be a highly emotional element to sonatas; J. A. P. Schultz, a German musician of the eighteenth century stated that, ‘In no form of instrumental music is there a better opportunity than in the sonata to depict feelings without words…’

      Mozart’s sonatas in particular are especially beloved by musicians and audiences alike, seemingly transcending effortlessly into our contemporary musical culture, having been a ‘staple’ since the beginning of the nineteenth century. It is hard to pinpoint what it is exactly that makes Mozart’s sonatas so appealing to the Western world. To the musician, the answer may lie in the technicality if the pieces; they are certainly intricate and challenging works, but less challenging than those of Beethoven for example, and as such, provide a form of ‘preparation.’ To an audience, Mozart’s sonatas seem to express a deep emotional power, but in a more refined style perhaps than Beethoven, they are ‘perfectly poised… that sets them apart from the turbulent emotional upheavals of Beethoven’s more famous thirty-two sonatas.’ Perhaps however, it is the distinctive influences upon Mozart’s works which set them apart from others.

      Mozart’s Sonata in D, K.284 is one of his most famous works. Within this creation, we can clearly see the impact of J.C. Bach. In the first movement of the sonata, we can see in bars 22-23, an almost identical rhythm and indeed melody too, to that of Bach’s Op.5 No.2, bars 19-26 of the first movement. In earlier edits of his sonata, this particular exposition is almost identical to Bach’s, which may explain why he later altered it.

     The first movement is in an allegro form with a relatively fast pace, and has been described as being ‘more symphonic,’ than Mozart’s other sonatas. The reason for this probably lies in the instrumentation. On a superficial level, we see it is evidently a piano sonata, but it does not seem especially notable. However, Mozart was introduced to a Stein piano in the year 1777, so this stylistic compositional and instrumental choice was probably as a result of him wishing to use the piano to its full potential; Mozart himself wrote of his final edit, ‘The final one sounds beautiful on Stein’s piano.’

      The Alberti bass line is something we see as a recurring feature within Mozart’s sonatas, and in fact sonatas of the period in general, and K.284 is no exception. An Alberti bass is similar to an arpeggio, and follows the tonic, dominant, median notes and returns to the dominant of the scale. It is played stylistically like a broken chord, and is often incorporated to add a continuous sense of fluidity to a piece. The bassline in cleverly injected into the polonaise section of the sonata, helping with the smooth, slower pace of the andante.

      Mozart’s use of themes and variations within K.284 is undeniably a primary reason for the success of the piece. Variations offer the listener a sense of familiarity and continuity for the piece, and yet also offer something new and diversify the composition. The third movement uses a total of twelve variations, and as such this movement is particularly long; in itself, it is longer than some of his completed sonatas. The initial four variations fit together in a group as such, as they are all intrinsically linked; he splits his main musical theme into gradually smaller and smaller rhythmic values within each grouping, e.g, he begins with the use of triplets, and finishes with miniscule sixteenth notes.

     The next technique we see in this set of variations, is the swapping of hands; what was played with the right hand now being played with the left hand and vice versa. Mozart employs this in order to alter the dynamics of the piece, moving it from a quieter tone to a forte. Not only does the technique provide that, but also it drastically increases the momentum of the piece, bringing it to a climax.

      The seventh variation is perhaps the most notable, in that it is the sole variation composed in a minor key. Structurally, this variation is ‘central’ within the movement, and the stark contrast gives a sense of anchoring for the piece, and serves to illuminate the other complimentary major themes alongside it. 



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