In 1778 Mozart journeyed with his mother from Salzburg to Paris. They stopped for several months in Mannheim, since that was the breeding-ground of the newest music and its orchestra was justly famous. Mozart absorbed all kinds of fertile impressions there and moved on a more mature musician than when he arrived. He composed five violin sonatas there and published them soon after in Paris as his Opus 1, in blind disregard of the fact that he already had three hundred works to his credit.
Following the example of Johann Christian Bach, the strongest influence on the young Mozart, these sonatas have only two movements. To generate some variety of key, therefore, he gives the central part of the second movement to the minor mode. Variety in the first movement is provided by the richness of Mozart’s invention of themes and his skillful division of the melodic interest between the two players. When one has the theme the other has the accompaniment, and vice versa. These are no longer piano sonatas with violin accompaniment, as his childhood works had been, but an equal partnership.
Hugh Macdonald is Avis Blewett Professor of Music at Washington University in St. Louis. He has published books on Scriabin and Berlioz, and his book of essays Beethoven’s Century appeared in 2008.