Fantasy and Sonata c minor K. 475/457
Urtext Edition, paperbound
Pages: 36 (V, 31), Size 23,5 x 31,0 cm
Order no. HN 345 · ISMN M-2018-0345-6
Level of difficulty (Piano): medium (Level 6)
Following K 333 (315c) Mozart wrote no more sonatas until the great C minor Sonata K 457 of October 1784. Meanwhile he was writing and performing piano concertos – five in quick succession in 1783/84 (K 449, 450, 451, 453 and 456) – for his subscription concerts in Vienna, which at first were very successful. It is no wonder, then, that the virtuoso brilliance on which his success in his subscription concerts depended can be detected in his later compositions. However, the C minor Sonata offers more than this: a shattering expression of personal anguish, and a new language altogether which set this Sonata at the beginning of an epoch. This is the work which made the deepest impression on Mozart’s direct contemporaries and successors, especially on the young Beethoven. Discounting Haydn’s quite different C minor Sonata (Hob. XVI/20), this is the first truly monumental work in the sonata repertory, designed for acoustics more spacious than those of drawing rooms. Although written when Mozart was at the peak of his worldly success in Vienna, in 1784, it is tragic to the core. During that year, he gave more than twenty concerts of his own works all of which were apparently fully booked: even in our modern “concert industry” era it is quite exceptional for a virtuoso, or even a famous composer-virtuoso, to make twenty successive appearances in a single city. Yet it was just at this time that tragedy, objective and subjective, took a grip on Mozart’s life, finally leading to his death in poverty. The C minor Sonata is the first of a series of tragic works in minor keys, which culminates in the unfinished Requiem of 1791.
From the assertive opening on, the first movement is a sustained cry of protest, yielding at the end to a consoling Adagio movement, one of Mozart’s finest inspirations. It may be more than accidental that the A flat major theme of the second episode is almost identical with the adagio theme of Beethoven’s Pathétique Sonata. But the tragedy in Mozart’s Sonata will not be stemmed by this Adagio. It returns with shattering force in the final rondo in which lamentation, protest, resignation, breathless terror and despair are constantly interrupted by silences which render the cries vain and hollow. Yet the classical form is not undermined by all this subjective expression. Mozart’s music achieves greatness through the conquest of personal tragedy by inner order and discipline, and on this level he is Beethoven’s peer. In the first movement, the opening unison statement and its answer – like the themes of the K 491 Piano Concerto and the K 475 Fantasy – lead us to a profoundity which language is powerless to fathom.
C MINOR FANTASY K 475
Although wrote Mozart the great “Fantasie” in which he achieves a unique blending of funeral C minor with demonic chromaticism – six months after the Sonata, he endorsed the intrinsic connection between the two works by publishing them together. They appeared under the title “Fantaisie et Sonate pour le Forte-Piano” in December 1785 with a dedication to Madame Therese von Trattner. Madame von Trattner (1758 1796) was a pupil of Mozart and the wife of Mozart’s wealthy and influential landlord. It has been suggested that an unhappy love affair with her might have provoked the serious expression of both works. However, no proof for this assumption is extant.
This Fantasy might well be ranked as Mozart’s most significant single piano composition. Like the Sonata in C minor, it opens in unison, like the Concerto in C minor, it is chromatic. The chromatic steps around the fifth (F sharp, G, A flat) convey a sense of impeding doom, as they do in the main subject of the Concerto’s first movement. The Fantasy seems freely constructed, but is in fact most tightly knot. The overall shape is a succession of slow, fast and again slow sections, with a return of the first theme towards the end. The chromatically descending bass in measures 10 16 supports bold harmonies, with an almost Schubertian modulation from C minor to B minor. The two slow lyrical sections are in D and in B flat major, i.e. the supertonic of C and its mirror. It is worth noting that due to the intense modulations, this Fantasy has no key designation, but is seemingly written in C major.
Paul and Eva Badura-Skoda
Suggested viewing on Youtube: Edwin Fischer
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|
"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