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Violin Sonata in B-flat major, K. 454

About the Work

Wolfgang Mozart
Quick Look Composer: Wolfgang Mozart
Program note originally written for the following performance:
Fortas Chamber Music Concert: Christoph Eschenbach & Dan Zhu, violin Mon., Mar. 12, 2012, 7:30 PM
© Peter Laki

The Sonata in B-flat major, K.454 (1784) is in a class all by itself among Mozart's violin sonatas. It owes its life to the Viennese debut of a remarkable touring virtuoso who, moreover (and very unusually for those days), was a woman. Her name was Regina Strinasacchi; she was 22 or 23 at the time of her concert with Mozart. She had studied at the famous Ospedale della Pietà in Venice where, many decades earlier, Vivaldi served as music director. By all accounts, she was an exceptionally flamboyant player, trained as an opera singer as well as a violinist.

Mozart had been asked to compose a new sonata for Strinasacchi's Viennese concert, which took place on April 29, 1784. Having left the composition to the last minute as he often did, Mozart once again had no time to notate the piano part. The story goes that, after giving Strinasacchi her music, he had an empty sheet on the piano, as he played a part that only existed in his head. When he later wrote it down, he used ink of a different color and had a hard time squeezing in all the sixteenths underneath the notes of the violin. According to Mozart's widow, even Emperor Joseph II found out about the ruse, as he was looking through his opera glasses and noticed that Mozart had no music in front of him.

The unique nature of this sonata is apparent from its very theatrical opening. It is the only Mozart sonata to open with a slow introduction. (The opening Adagio in K.379 is so long it almost feels like a movement in its own right.) Though short, this introduction is both grandiose and intense. The ensuing Allegro is serene and playful, again not without some operatic gestures (this time alluding to comic opera). The magical slow movement contains some enharmonic modulations that are among the boldest Mozart ever wrote, while the concluding Rondo presents a cornucopia of sparkling melodic ideas.