Classical Music | Piano Music

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Sonata in D Major, K. 576  Play

Michael Tsalka Piano

Recorded on 09/19/2006, uploaded on 01/23/2009

Musician's or Publisher's Notes

It is a curious phenomenon that composers, particularly in their later years, have found themselves drawn to the works of Johann Sebastian Bach as a source of inspiration. Beethoven referred to Bach as the "immortal god of harmony" and it is not difficult to recognize Bach's influence in the mysterious works of Beethoven's last years. Mendelssohn was, no doubt, also influenced by Bach, not to mention instrumental in bringing the Leipzig master's works into the public eye. Then Brahms—who, of all composers, quite possibly came closest to matching Bach's impeccable contrapuntal technique. But, there is also Mozart. Having made an intimate study of the works of both Bach and Handel during 1782-83, his later works show a growing influence of the contrapuntal style that had all but been abandoned in favor of the simplistic Classical style. A particularly keen example of this is Mozart's last piano sonata.

Composed in 1789, the Piano Sonata in D major, K. 576 was written after an unsuccessful trip to garner commissions. Mozart traveled to Potsdam, Berlin and, most notably, Leipzig. The sonata begins with an unassuming motif based on the arpeggio of the tonic triad—a motif that would seem perfectly suited for the strict thematic treatment of the Classical era. Instead, it is later subjected to contrapuntal treatment and becomes a dominant feature of the movement. The movement's second theme arrives rather late in the exposition, though the change to the dominant key occurs much earlier. This theme is more melodic than the motivic first theme but plays a relatively minor part in the movement as a whole. After a close in A major, the development finds its way to the remote key of B-flat major, via A minor and F major. Once in that key, the contrapuntal treatment of the first theme begins. Though brief, the development shows the wealth of music that can come from such a simple idea when placed in the hands of a capable composer.

The middle movement, an Adagio in A major, begins with a lyrical melody. Despite its major key tonality, it is throughout darkened by the use of chromatic coloring. In its middle section, it turns toward a shadowy F-sharp minor. Devoid of any real melody, the section is based on a short melancholy motif embellished with poignant appoggiaturas. A return is made to the opening A major melody and the movement closes with a brief coda reminiscent of the middle F-sharp minor section.

The finale, an Allegretto, opens with a simple and playful tune. It, too, also becomes the subject of contrapuntal treatment. Immediately after its completion, the melody is repeated against a counterpoint of triplet sixteenth notes. This countermelody occurs again twice in full during the course of the movement. During the course of the development, the countermelody also appears partially inverted above the principal theme in double counterpoint. At multiple points during the movement, the theme is also subjected multiple times to imitation. Though it remains within the bounds of the Classical style, Mozart's final piano sonata, without a doubt, shows an unusual emphasis on counterpoint.      Joseph DuBose
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Sonata in D Major, K. 576         Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

I.   Allegro; II.  Andante; III. Allegretto

Mozart's last keyboard Sonata in D Major, K. 576, seems to contain the contradictory aspects that so clearly characterize his mature keyboard style; the seamless facility and transparency of his harmonic structure is combined with the supple expressive powers of his thematic material. At the same time, great complexity is created by his masterful control of contrapuntal techniques, his unexpected formal departures, and the great technical and expressive demands he places on the performer.   Michael Tsalka