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In 1776 it was becoming increasingly evident to the 20-year old Mozart that Salzburg was not the place that would nurture and promote his musical talent or ideas, and the strained relations with his employer, Archbishop Colloredo, only added to Wolfgang’s struggles and frustration.
In August 1777, after long and detailed planning with his father Leopold, Mozart resigned from his position as a court musician and a month later left on a tour through Europe in search of employment. Since his father could not leave his own position at the Archbishop’s court, Wolfgang’s mother had to accompany her son on the trip to Munich, Mannheim, and Paris. This trip proved to be disaster both professionally and personally, as Mozart’s attempts at securing a position did not yield any results, while his father’s increasingly frantic letters put more and more pressure on the young composer. In Paris Mozart never even entertained serious hopes for some kind of success, as he truly detested the city, its people, and its music. There, he did not make any important contacts, rarely performed, composed very little, fell into debt, and took to pawning valuables. And when it seemed things could not get any worse, in the summer of 1778 his mother fell ill, became bed-ridden for three weeks, went into a coma and died in July.
The A-minor Sonata was written during that Paris summer and one can be almost certain the tragic events surrounding this period account for the dark, tumultuous, and unrelenting character of this work. Being the first of only two Mozart sonatas written in a minor key, this composition opens with an aggressive, almost furious-sounding theme with a very distinct dotted rhythm in the right hand accompanied by equally aggressive and relentlessly repeated eighth-note chords in the left hand. The energy and turmoil of the first movement leave the listener breathless, with wild cascades of endless 16th notes persistently pierced by the angry repeated dotted notes of the main motive, ultimately ending without peace or resolution.
The Andante Cantabile, with its lovely melodies and elegance set in F major, sounds in stark contrast to the tumult of the first movement. It exudes the emotional depth of an especially mature and confident composer, while managing to put reins on and preserve the hidden – but always present - underlying dark energy from the beginning, ready to explode in any moment.
The last movement opens with a hauntingly beautiful but troubled melody with which Mozart brings back the tumultuous mood of the first movement. For nearly three intense minutes, this final Presto pushes through with unrelenting dark energy to its dramatic conclusion. And yet, somehow Mozart finds a way to offer glimpses of light in the midst of the angst, recalling the tenderness of the second movement. And even though those moments are ultimately drowned by the turmoil, we are reminded of the lighter and positive nature of the young Mozart, only temporarily darkened by the tragic events of the summer of 1778.
Notes by Milen Kirov