Irrespective of how many times I read about Mozart, the details of his life never fail to amaze me. At the age of eight, by which time he was already an experienced touring violinist, he had written four violin sonatas in the Italian style. This detail alone is nothing short of remarkable and fully justifies the use of the word genius in any description regarding the life of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791).
This is further underlined when you consider that despite his death at such a young age he was a prolific composer who left a vast library of work. There are 22 operas, 41 symphonies, 27 piano concertos, five violin concertos, concertos for clarinet and horn, a wealth of sacred compositions, 23 string quartets, and a large catalogue of serenades, or Nachtmusik.
This already impressive list doesn’t include his vast array of chamber music, which he started writing at the grand old age of twelve. When, in 1774, he turned his genius towards piano sonatas, he completed six in as many as months, going on to compose 18 in total.
Facts and figures are one thing and a vast catalogue, however prolific, would count for little if it wasn’t someone with the creative genius of Mozart that we were discussing. He was a child prodigy, a composer capable of completing a piece during a single journey, who possessed a musical mind from which ideas constantly flowed. He was indeed a master of composition who seemed able to dazzle the listener with pieces that introduce a myriad of ideas and yet still maintain clarity of vision.
Surprisingly, Mozart himself saw it somewhat differently. In a letter to his father he wrote, “It is a mistake to think that the practice of my art has become easy to me – no one has given so much care to the study of compositions as I have. There is scarcely a famous master in music whose works I have not frequently and diligently studied.”
If he did, as he claimed, struggle for his art, he was also destined to experience near constant financial struggles throughout his life as well. He died amid escalating financial worries and was buried in an unmarked communal grave.
MSR Classics have paid further homage to this incredible life by releasing Late Dates With Mozart (MS 1305), which consists of three Sonatas for piano and violin, performed by violinist Stephanie Sant’Ambrogio and pianist James Winn.
The three pieces performed on this CD are “Sonata in B-flat major, K.454,” “Sonata in E-flat major, K. 481,” and “Sonata in A major, K. 526.” The first piece dates from 1784 and was written, somewhat in haste, for the Italian violinist Regina Strinasacchi to perform before the Emperor in Vienna.
The remarkable part of the story is told in Louis Nieburs's excellent sleeve notes which accompany the album. Mozart only had time to score the violin part of the composition and, on the night of the performance, had to improvise the piano as she played. Its popularity helped Mozart realise the potential value of publishing, and he set about composing further pieces.
"K. 481" arrived the following year. It was written while he was also working on his somewhat controversial comic opera Le Nozze di Figaro. The Musikalische Real-Zeitung said of the piece, “The Adagio is full of gentle emotions, the true expression of languishing love.”
"K. 526" was completed shortly after the death of his father in 1787. However, the sleeve notes explain that it was probably written to mark another death, that of Mozart’s London colleague and fellow composer Carl Friedrich Abel, whose work is gently echoed here. With this piece Mozart hoped that his financial instability would ease; sadly, it was not to be.
Internationally acclaimed violinist Stephanie Sant’Ambrogio has been a member of the Argenta Trio since 2007 and has been the Concertmaster of the San Antonio Symphony for thirteen years. She has performed as a soloist throughout the United States, Canada, South America, and Europe.
Renowned pianist and composer James Winn has been the piano and composition professor at the University of Nevada since 1997. He has been involved in numerous world premieres and premiere recordings by many renowned composers, including thirteen Pulitzer Prize winners. He is also a prolific composer whose work has been performed internationally.
Late Dates With Mozart recalls a period in Mozart’s life that followed his arrival in Vienna as an independent musician in 1781. The three sonatas represent a shift in emphasis for the violin, which is set alongside the piano rather than being an accompaniment to it. The result is an often charming interplay between the two instruments which is joyfully captured by both players. Stephanie Sant’Ambrogio and James Winn expertly rise to the challenge.
MSR Classics has an extensive catalogue of recordings available which can be found on their official website.