Piano Sonata a minor K. 310 (300d)
Urtext Edition, paperbound
Detailed critical commentary
(not available in the printed editions)
available free-of-charge: Download
Pages: 23 (V, 18), Size 23,5 x 31,0 cm
Order no. HN 396 · ISMN 979-0-2018-0396-8
Level of difficulty (Piano): difficult (Level 6/7)
This A minor Sonata suddenly opens a new world. Einstein may well have been right in assuming that the Sonata was written under the weight of Mozart’s grief at his mother’s death in Paris.
FIRST MOVEMENT The first movement is marked “Allegro maestoso”, and the opening theme is indeed truly majestic: its dotted rhythms were formerly understood to imply majesty. The texture is orchestral in its fullness, and the relentless pulsing of the accompanying chords suggest majesty of a demonic and sinister kind. The first movement constantly alternates between anguish and resignation. Instead of a cantabile second theme (starting in measure 23) Mozart chose consistent semiquaver movement, followed by a two-part counterpoint passage in the left hand from measure 28 on. The last five measures of the exposition recall the dotted rhythm of the first subject. In the development, a storm breaks out; this passage is without parallel or precedent in Mozart’s piano works. The sudden dynamic contrasts between ff and pp and again ff, which Mozart prescribes here, foreshadow outbursts in Beethoven’s Sonatas. The two diminished-seventh chords in measures 126-7 heighten the expression of tragedy – a typical implication of this chord during the classical period.
SECOND MOVEMENT The second movement of this Sonata (in F major) is marked Andante cantabile con espressione. This should be played with dignity, for unlike the warmth and grace of Mozart’s usual slow movements in a major-key, it displays a restrained passion. A second theme (m. 15 f.) recalls with its repeated notes the second subject of the Andante movement of the Symphony in A major, K 201. The development starts with a solemn elaboration of the opening theme and grows in intensity up to the climax at measures 43 49, again one of the most anguished passages in Mozart’s piano works, recalling thus the passionate expression found in the middle section of the preceding first movement. The recapitulation returns finally to the solace of the first subject.
THIRD MOVEMENT The final movement, a Presto, reverts to the foreboding of the first movement; but instead of presenting the drama with the help of an orchestral texture, this finale gives a more subdued image of the underlying mood of tragedy. Mozart, unlike Beethoven, rarely resolved his minor-key works into radiant major finales; he seldom allows joy to conquer tragedy. Most of his minor compositions return to the spirit of the opening, as they do here. This Presto is one of the most desolate movements Mozart ever wrote, with its remarkable fluctuations between resignation and defiance and only a single subtly illuminating shaft of A major, a fleeting Fata Morgana.
Paul and Eva Badura-Skoda
Suggested viewing on YouTube: Arthur Schnabel
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