THE COMPLETE SONATAS for violin & keyboard
Hidden in plain sight, Mozart's violin sonatas have traditionally been neglected in favor of his more famous works. Yet the sonatas reveal a uniquely personal perspective of Mozart's journey from wunderkind to icon.
Since 2016 the Smith Pierce Duo have been taking audiences on a journey of discovery, performing the complete cycle - from the seven year old works published proudly by his father as Op.1, to the experimental fragments dedicated to his new bride Costanza, to the mature performance sonatas of his final years that were to establish the genre for a young Beethoven.
Mozart - Live in Concert - The Smith Pierce Duo
The Wunderkind Sonatas k.6 & 7
in Leopold's Hand
published Paris 1764 as Op.1
The Wunderkind Sonatas k.8 & 9
in Leopold's Hand
published Paris 1764 as Op.2
The Wunderkind Sonatas k.26-31
in Leopold's Hand
published Holland 1765-66 as Op.4
The 6 Mannheim Sonatas k.301-306
published as Op.1 in 1778
The 6 Auernhammer Sonatas k.296, 376-380
written in Mannheim, Paris, Vienna and Salzburg published in Vienna1781
The Costanza Fragments k.372, 396, 402, 403, 404
The Late Viennese Sonatas k.454, 481, 526, 547
* k10-13 include optional cello and are not included since they fall under the category of accompanied sonatas.
Mozart's relationship to the violin stretches back to his childhood. His elder sister, Marie Ann (affectionately known as "Nannerl") was destined for marriage and confined by her father to the keyboard - an acceptable instrument for a lady. But Wolfgang, who was to follow in his father's footsteps as a professional musician, played both violin and keyboard. The young Wolfgang revered his talented sister and was the apple of his father's eye - Amadeo "God's favorite". The two instruments became central to the Mozart family life and playing "a deux" was an integral part of growing up.
Mozart's first violin sonatas k.6-7 and k7-8 written in Paris in 1764 when he was just seven, are as much an expression of his family relationships as they are the first attempts of a young prodigy composing to impress - to impress the heavy expectations of his father, to impress his elder sister whom he admired with a sibling rivalry, and to impress his patrons who held the key to his families fortunes. Written in Leopold's hand and published as Op.1 and Op,2 they show the clear influence of a paternal education. While Mozart's voice is clear, the works follow in the footsteps of his contemporaries, where the violin shadows the piano. Op 3 followed quickly after - sonatas for keyboard with an optional violin (or flute) and cello. And a year later in 1765 on a trip to the Hague, Op.4 followed (k26-31), another set of violin sonatas in the traditional style. It was clear that Leopold saw the publication of violin sonatas as a way to spread Mozart's fame as a Wunderkind while on tour.
As Wolfgang became independent of his family the violin sonata continued to hold a special place in his thinking. In 1778, his trip to the Mannheim court coupled with the discovery of the Divertimenti da Camera of Joseph Schuster, (where the violin plays a more modern and independent role) inspired him to write a set of six violin sonatas which he would declare as his new Op.1 - restarting the clock on his professional life as an artist of standing. These Mannheim Sonatas k301-306, commonly in two movements, are fresh and exciting with the violin playing an equal role to the piano. In some respects they represent the birth of a new genre.
It is clear Mozart had become excited by the new possibilities this new sonata style offered and that he had found a new path that would to establish his credentials. Barely had he finished the Mannheim sonatas, when he started a new set on his travels from Paris to Vienna. Now known as the Auernhammer sonatas, (compiled and published by his student Josepha Auernhammer) they were written between 1778 and 1781 during a difficult period in his life and represent an entirely new approach to the form. In three movements and in a more formal style, it is clear that Mozart wanted to create more balanced works, perhaps thinking about his legacy as a composer.
In his last decade in Vienna he never abandoned the violin sonata but he was never able to complete a "publication set" common throughout the Baroque and early Classical period. Instead Mozart's late violin sonatas (and the many experimental fragments he wrote for Costanza at the height of their courtship and marriage), are stand alone sonatas, written for special concerts or possibly as part of sets he never finished. These final sonatas go beyond his early sonatas and achieve the stature of independent works of art in a manner that was to inspire Beethoven barely a decade later.