The Kennedy Center

Violin Sonata in G major, K. 379

About the Work

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
© Peter Laki

Three years after his ill-fated Parisian sojourn, Mozart made the life-changing move from his native Salzburg to Vienna, and as part of his efforts to establish himself there, he published, once again, a set of six violin sonatas, which the publisher called "Op. 2." This time, he was much more successful. Here is an excerpt from a letter he wrote to his father on April 8, 1781:

Today (for I am writing at eleven o'clock at night) we had a concert, where three of my compositions were performed-new ones, of course: a rondo for a concerto for Brunetti, a sonata with violin accompaniment for myself, which I composed last night between eleven and twelve (but in order to be able to finish it, I only wrote out the accompaniment and retained my own part in my head); and then a rondo for Ceccarelli, which we had to repeat.

Mozart's partners in this concert were violinist Antonio Brunetti, concertmaster of the Salzburg court orchestra, and the castrato singer Francesco Ceccarelli. The sonata performed that evening is the one known today as the Sonata in G major, K.379. The violin part Mozart had written out for Brunetti has been preserved, but it differs substantially from the final version. Mozart must have revised the sonata before publication, so what we are going to hear tonight took even him more than an hour to complete.

This sonata opens and closes in G major, but its only fast movement, which must be regarded as its central statement, is in G minor. It is well known that Mozart wrote some of his most impassioned music in G minor (two symphonies, a piano quartet, a string quintet, Pamina's "Ach, ich fühl's" from The Magic Flute). The present movement is no exception; the music's dramatic intensity is further enhanced by its brevity, which makes it sound like a single outburst of violent emotions.

The stormy G-minor Allegro is surrounded by music of great calm and profound lyricism. In the opening Adagio, a lengthy slow introduction that is almost a movement in itself, the piano's arpeggios accompany a long cantabile melody played in turn by the two instruments. Then, after the Allegro, we hear a set of exquisite variations on a simple theme. It is interesting that in addition to the usual minor-mode variation (in fourth place here), each one of the other variations passes through the minor mode, adding dramatic or sentimental touches to an otherwise gentle and subdued movement. After the fifth variation, the theme returns in its original form, and a brief coda closes the sonata.