About this Piece
When Mozart's first sonatas for violin and keyboard were published in 1764, it was as "Sonatas for Harpsichord, Which Can Be Played with Violin Accompaniment." This was a rather modish genre at the time that also vividly marked a pronounced stylistic shift from music composed as horizontal layers to music constructed around vertical stacks.
Thirteen years later, the rapidly maturing composer was in Mannheim on a job-seeking tour, where he played six keyboard and violin duets by one Joseph Schuster. "They are not bad," Mozart wrote to his father. "If I stay on I shall write six myself in the same style, as they are very popular here." He carried through on this plan with six sonatas (known as the "Palatine" Sonatas from their dedication to the Electress of the Palatine) published in Paris the following year, 1778.
In these sonatas the ensemble balance is much more equitable. Like all but one of them, the Sonata in A major is in two movements - uncommon for Mozart, but not among his models. The first is a textbook sonata form, filled with the instrumental brilliance for which Mannheim music was famed. The second movement is a courtly theme, followed by six variations. The first variation is a fleet perpetual motion spot for the piano alone, and the violin takes the lead in the second variation. The third features athletic call-and-response in triplets, and the fourth gives the violin an opportunity to display sustained lyricism, with a mini-cadenza for the piano. Typical of theme-and-variation sets of the time, the penultimate variation is a stark one in minor mode and the finale is an uptempo dance, in triple meter rather than the duple divisions of the theme and the other five variations.
- John Henken is Director of Publications for the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association.