Piano Sonata B flat major K. 281 (189f)
Urtext Edition, paperbound
Detailed critical commentary
(not available in the printed editions)
available free-of-charge: Download
Order no. HN 1053 · ISMN M-2018-1053-9
Level of difficulty (Piano): medium (Level 5/6)
In his letters Mozart described his early Piano Sonatas K. 270-284 as being "difficult sonatas". He was probably referring less to the refinements of performance and more to the demands of aesthetics and interpretation, as he also gave these works unusually rich markings as far as dynamics and articulation were concerned. The tempo marking "Andante amoroso", rather untypical for Mozart, for the middle movement of his Sonata in B flat major K. 281 is striking - but is there a better way to describe this tender, lyrical music? Up to now this lovely sonata was only contained in the larger complete volume (HN 1), but now it is offered in an inexpensive single edition.
FIRST MOVEMENT B flat major, the key of the third sonata in the cycle, seems to have been Mozart’s favourite key for piano music, since he used it for three sonatas and no fewer than four concertos and six piano and violin sonatas. At the outset, the theme of the first movement introduces a charming dualism between sixteenth triplets and 32nd notes. This admirably constructed movement deserves to be played more often; and the fortepiano instruments of Mozart’s time, with their clear, transparent sound and their individual timbre, seem especially well-suited to present the charming delicacy of the whole sonata.
SECOND MOVEMENT The second movement, an Andante amoroso (originally marked Andantino belongs to Mozart’s loveliest early works. It should be played with introspective devotion, not as a declaration of passion. Affectionate sighs alternate with the gentle flow of tender melodic phrases.
THIRD MOVEMENT The final rondo is in gavotte rhythm; it is packed with the expression of high spirits and concerto-like effects, for instance with the short cadenza in measure 43 and the return of the theme beneath a trill accompaniment (m. 114f). The theme of the rondo is binary, the second part being a varied repeat in the sense of the C.P.E. Bach’s use of the term. The Italianate “Mannheim sighs” in measure 3 are repeated in the first episode. The second episode in minor introduces a hint of melancholy into the course of gay events, which the third episode also interrupts, this time with a loud, dramatically spread diminished-seventh chord (m. 102 104). The movement, which is related in form as well as key to the finales of the Sonatas K 333 and K 570, and also to that of the Concerto K 238, comes to an end with a brief and wittily playful coda.
Paul and Eva Badura-Skoda
Suggested viewing on YouTube: Vadim Chaimovich, movements 1-3
Audio example: Maria João Pires
Deutsche Grammophon 028947752004GB6
The levels of difficulty of the
piano music published by G. Henle Publishers
The levels of difficulty of the piano music published by G. Henle Publishers
|1||easy||Bach, Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach, nos. 4 and 5|
|2||Bach, Well-Tempered Clavier I, no. 1 Prelude C major|
|3||Beethoven, Piano Sonatas op. 49,1 and 2|
|4||medium||Grieg, Lyric Pieces op. 12, no. 4|
|5||Schumann, Fantasy Pieces op. 12, no. 1|
|6||Chopin, Nocturnes op. 27, nos. 1 and 2|
|7||difficult||Beethoven, Piano Sonata op. 10, no. 3|
|8||Beethoven, Piano Sonata op. 81a|
|9||Schumann, Toccata op. 7|
Guide to the levels of difficulty
"I don't know what 'difficult' means. Either you can play or you can't" – this was the rather terse comment by the great violinist Nathan Milstein, on being asked about the unbelievable difficulty of Niccolo Paganini's Caprice no. 1.
The relativity of the evaluation of difficulty in music immediately becomes clear. Yet I gladly take up this great challenge, presented to me by G. Henle Publishers. For I am aware of how useful a guide like this can be, both from my own experience as well as that of many colleagues. In particular so as to be able to identify "appropriate" works. For example for music teachers, who teach at very different levels, from beginners to those preparing for music conservatories, but also for all those interested amateurs for whom this guide is intended.
After careful deliberation I have settled on nine levels of difficulty, which I have divided into three groups: 1–3 (easy), 4–6 (medium), 7–9 (difficult). A number of parameters have been considered when assessing the level of difficulty. I have not just looked at the number of fast or slow notes to be played, or the chord sequences; of central importance are also the complexity of the piece's composition, its rhythmic complexities, the difficulty of reading the text for the first time, and last but not least, how easy or difficult it is to understand its musical structure. I have defined "piece" as being the musical unit of a sonata, or a single piece in a cycle, which is why Bach's "Well-Tempered Clavier" Part I comprises a total of 48 levels of difficulty (each prelude and fugue is considered separately), Schumann's Sonata in f sharp minor op.11 only has a single number. My assessment is measured by the ability to prepare a piece for performance.
While assessing the pieces, it became clear that the medium level of difficulty (4–6) is the trickiest. Now and again this means that a piece is judged as a "3/4", even if it only deserved a "3" as far as piano technique is concerned. An example of such a "borderline" case (easy/medium) is Schumann's "Scenes from Childhood" op. 15 Von fremden Ländern und Menschen or at the other end "6/7" part of Bach's "English Suites". And of course within a main category there are also "from-to" evaluations (e.g. 7/8).
Any evaluation of art or music will always be subjective, even if the aim was to be objective. Despite the fact that I have endeavoured to be as careful as possible, I am all too aware that the results of my work can be called into question, and am therefore grateful for any suggestions you might have.
Prof. Rolf Koenen © 2010