Tuesday, December 20, 2005


Mozart year is coming up fast and I've written an article for the Indy about why it's all a bit much (will post when printed). But in the meantime, Tom and I have been indulging in the sort of idiotically privileged activity in which a childless couple of musos with time off at Christmas can enjoy indulging. We found a volume of Mozart violin & piano sonatas (NB, technically piano & violin sonatas) lurking in the music cupboard. Tom said "I don't really know these." I'd only played a couple before, at university, which is longer ago than I care to remember. So Tom, being a little German sometimes, decided we should be systematic and play one per day throughout the Xmas break.

I've quickly discovered several crucial things about these pieces.

1. They're not boring. They're absolutely astonishing. No.1, which I'd thought was nothing more than a sweet, jolly little number, is full of genius. Mozart's chromaticism, especially, is simply incredible. There's warmth, wit, flow, perfection. At least, there should be if one isn't sightreading... Which leads me on to:

2. They are Bloody Difficult. No.3 in D major, or part of it, has recently been orchestrated - Dan Hope and Sebastian Knauer recorded it with Norrington as a concerto for violin and piano - and having just bashed through the A major concerto K488, to see whether I could, I can vouch for the fact that this violin sonata's piano part is much harder to play!

3. The ensemble between violin and piano is much more intricate, demanding and subtle than that required in Franck & co. Numerous passages involving playing runs together in thirds or in unison; occasional written out trills in unison; all kinds of tricks in which Wolfi just wants to have fun trapping you!

4. The only reason one sometimes expects Mozart violin sonatas to be 'boring' is that a lot of violinists play them as if they ought to be - without enough spirit. There's so much by way of detail, humour and sheer 'temperament' in them that to approach them with undue reverence, or with the aim simply of getting 'authentic' articulation 'right', will not satisfactorily convey what they're about. A great many players today either lack the imagination or are too intimidated by scholarship and correctness, political or otherwise, to let themselves go, apply heart as well as brain and get to the core of the music. Mozart without heart isn't Mozart.

Today we'll be having a go at No.4 in E minor.

ADDENDUM, 21 December: Have just discovered an alternative viewpoint on Mozart by Norman Lebrecht, who I suspect has been having fun by being excessively provocative. I have just three things to say in response: 1. I LIKE Mozart and I don't WANT to listen to the Leningrad Symphony instead just because it's "historically important". We don't listen to music because it's historically important. We listen because we love it. 2. You wouldn't write a thing like this if you were a musician yourself and knew the music and its inner complexities from the inside. The inimitable Norman is a news journalist. 3. Slag off the Mozart industry, by all means. But please don't slag off Mozart.