Sonata in B-flat for Piano and Violin, K. 454
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
The period during which Mozart (1756-1791) wrote the B-flat Sonata was one of the most prodigiously productive in the short lifetime of a genius renowned for prodigious production. Composed in April 1784, it was the sixth masterwork to come from his pen in a period of three months beginning in February, the Sonata's older siblings being four piano concertos K. 449, 450,451, 453 - and the Quintet for piano and winds, K. 452.
Like virtually all of the works from this most successful of his years in Vienna, the Sonata was written for one of his own performances, or more correctly, for a concert given by a young Italian violinist in which he was to participate. Mozart wrote to his father of the occasion: "We now have here the famous Regina Strinasacchi from Mantua, a very good violinist. She has a great deal of taste and feeling in her playing. I am this moment composing a sonata which we are going to play together on Thursday at her concert in the theatre."
The resultant work is clearly geared for virtuosos of both instruments, the violin part being on the same level of importance as the piano and not merely an accessory to it. But the attractive and gifted Strinasacchi inspired Mozart to more than the devising of a showpiece; the B flat Sonata is a composition of real stature, a gem of a work, as striking for its musical substance as for its dashing instrumental felicities.
Mozart biographer Alfred Einstein likened the Sonata's introduction "a proud Largo" to a triumphal arch through which one passes on his way to the majestic Allegro. In the movement proper, as in the entire Sonata, the interplay of the duo is concerto like in the best Mozartean manner, which is to say each instrument has a life very much its own, the writing allowing for equal amounts of independence and joyous compatibility.
The Andante is the Sonata's centerpiece numerically and expressively, achieving a scope and depth beyond that which a Viennese audience would expect - or possibly want - in a violin sonata. But if the movement's exquisite introspections had any disturbing effect on the entertainment-minded audience, the open faced exuberance and the brilliance of the finale were the perfect antidotes. Eighteenth-century music expert Cuthbert Girdlestone calls B-flat Mozart's key of joy and serenity; the outer movements of the present Sonata fully justify the observation.
- Orrin Howard served the Los Angeles Philharmonic for more than 20 years as Director of Publications and Archives. He continues to contribute to the program book.