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Mozart's Violin Sonata in E minor, K. 304

February 1, 2022

On this week's lecture, resident lecturer Bruce Adolphe discusses Mozart's Violin Sonata in E minor, K. 304. Featuring a performance by Sean Lee, violin; Orion Weiss, piano.

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Welcome to the Inside Chamber Music Podcast presented by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. I'm Bruce Adolphe, Resident Lecturer at CMS, where I started the lecture series in 1992. In 2011, we began livestreaming the lectures on our website. The audio for this podcast comes from the ever growing archive of videos made available live and on demand at ChamberMusicSociety.org.

We look at the music from a compositional perspective and find parallels in novels, plays and poetry. Plus, we explore historical context. And with live musicians in the studio, during the lectures, we experiment with performance issues. Today's podcast features Mozart's Violin Sonata in E minor Cruciale 304. Sean Lee is the violinist. Orion Weiss is the pianist. Hello. Hello everybody. Hello.

Hello. Welcome back. So we are about to begin four discussions of Violin Sonatas. Which is really going to be fun for me. I mean, it's nice to have something as intimate as this. I mean, usually it's only four people or five, now it's just two. You know, we're just cutting back. That's all it really is. No, no. I think it's going to be great.

I want to start with some statistics about minor keys and Mozart. And of course, in the classical period before Beethoven, I think it's safe to say, the major keys were far more common. But it's interesting to have the statistics. It's also interesting, as I read these to you, to bear in mind, I'm sure you keep this in mind whenever you think of Mozart that he died when he was 35.

As I read some of these numbers to you. All right. Of the 41 symphonies, two are in minor keys, the rest major. 18 piano sonatas, two minor. 27 piano concertos, two minor. 21 other concertos for all kinds of combinations, all major keys, every one of them. 23 string quartets. Two are in D minor. Six string quartets, two minor. Two piano quartets, one in each.

That was good. I like that. Of course, he invented that medium and he only wrote two and nobody had done a piano quartet. So one major, one minor. 13 serenades, one minor. And of the 36 sonatas for piano and violin only this one is minor. It's a lot of music. And I left out all the operas. And I left out over 100 small works that we don't take that seriously anymore.

So nobody knows, it's already miraculous just to consider this whole thing. Now, minor keys, therefore, must mean something special when a composer decides to use them in that period. And for Mozart, they clearly do. They're very powerful pieces. Some of his most beloved pieces, some of the most expressive and some of the most memorable are in minor keys.

Of the 41 symphonies, the two that are minor are both in G minor. The little one, and then number 40, the famous one. This is in E minor, this sonata, and it is the only piece he wrote in E minor. Now that doesn't mean E minor doesn't appear throughout his music. It does. With internally, in other movements, within a movement. But as a piece, this little beautiful work is the only one in E minor.

I could probably talk about that a really long time, but I think it would be a bad idea. I'm going to stop right there with the E minor thing. But it is interesting. For people who study Mozart are always saying that G minor is his passionate key, and that's only because he wrote more of his darker works in G minor than in any other key.

But maybe you could say he saved E minor for one piece because he loved it so much. I don't know. You'll have to work that out for yourself. Now, I'd like to start by asking Sean and Orion who are, I'm so excited to have them here. This is going to be great. To play the-yes. Okay. I think let's just play the very opening melody that's in unison. Just that much.

And we'll talk about that for 2 hours and then we'll go on. (music) Now, before we even discuss anything about this music, I'm going to ask these guys to play that again, but differently and then again differently because I think it's important to know that they have many, many, many choices. And it's interesting because the notes are written out, the rhythms are written out, it says piano.

But what if we did one that was seamlessly lyrical and sadder and a little quieter just to try that? (music) Okay. And what if we did one that was in the kind of early music style that some people used to play? And it's changed a little that has almost no vibrato and it's a little thinner and kind of languishing. (music)

Okay, so it's kind of fun. We'll stop doing that. But it is interesting. Now, the tune itself that you've heard so far, being stated in unison is the kind of thing that is a statement about the whole structure of the piece already. Because when Mozart, and then later Beethoven, states something in a unison like that, no harmony, no rhythmic accompaniment, nothing at all.

It is the purest kind of rhetoric possible where there is then going to be an exploration of this. Now, in this sonata, every time that theme comes back, it's completely different in texture and in mood in some way. It's never the same. But before we get into that, I want to say something. Excuse me Orion. Say something about the shape of the opening line.

That gesture of leaping up that high, which is an octave and a third. (music) Mozart used it a lot and he, as a young boy, he wrote his first violin sonatas when he was six and a few more when he was seven. There are quite a few. This is when he was 22. This is mature work. Of course it is because he died when he was 35.

But that idea of the leap, when he was a little boy, he was in Mannheim and Paris and he was in Italy, and he heard what was then considered the avant garde ensemble of the time, which was the Mannheim Orchestra. And they invented lots of techniques, and one of them was called the Rocket, the Mannheim Rocket, which is a leap up like that.

And he has... (music) In fact, let's, here, here's a moment of this symphony in G minor number 40. With that exact same trajectory of the rocket. (music) Okay. Then Beethoven, in early Beethoven, if you want to hear pretty much the same idea... See, where is the Beethoven? Ah! This looks like it. So you have this, the Mozart theme (music) and you have... Does that sound familiar?

Beethoven first Piano Sonata. (music) No, there's no tune there yet. I mean, it's just a fragment. (music) But he cuts it up. But what Mozart does in this is construct an entire melody. Now, if you know your classical music, I could give you a multiple choice test. Don't you hate those? Do we have public school educators here?

Okay. Or anybody from the city? Okay. But anyway, multiple choice tests would be, for example, the next phrase will be a continuation of this mood. That's A. B, it will be an elaboration in the piano accompaniment, or C, it will be an argument against it. Anybody want to... A, B or C? C! Yes. An argument against. Don't you just love- didn't bring you back to your childhood?

Okay. Anyway, so of course, it has to be an argument against it because part of a classical dialectic is, since it's a dialectic, the argument between two forces. And there is not a piece, especially a first movement by Mozart or Haydn or Beethoven, that doesn't have some sense of the authority versus the meek or what sometimes is called masculine and feminine, or what could be called aggressive reaction to that aggression.

But this is, all these structures are like that. As we talk about this piece, you're going to probably not be able to hear it without thinking a little bit about Leopold and Mozart, his son Leopold Mozart the father and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart the son, the opening phrase though, in this case, it's not a forceful one. It's perhaps mournful I hate to attach words to it, but somewhat sad anyway.

And let's start again and go further. In fact, I won't interrupt you for a while. Let's go through the whole exposition. And if you want to think about something other than just listening to the music, which is really the best thing to do, see if you can figure out or just keep track for your next test, which I'm not going to, I'm going to stop with the test, but I'm inspired by my daughter's school.

How many ideas exist in this very brief exposition? By exposition, we simply mean it goes straight through until a double bar and then he starts to develop it. It's a very simple process, but there are a lot of ideas here. (music)

Great. That's where we're stopping for now. Thank you. Did you notice that last little tune seems familiar and it seems new? Can you just play that G major thing? Ah, you're going to get up, but you can just do it yourself. (music) Yeah, because the rhythm is a lot like (music) but it's a completely different tune.

You could ask yourself, is that a development of it? Not really. It's a new version of it. But this is typical of Mozart. He does not stop the free associative patterns. They're just all over the place. Every new idea is related to the other ideas. But now and then they're not. And nobody does that because analysis in music is often thought of as finding relationships between things, which is very easy for humans to do.

We do that even when there is no relationship. You can always find something. In fact, a lack of a relationship is a kind of oppositional relationship. Anyway, so basically, if that's what analysis is, you can get into trouble with Mozart. That's why he was accused of having too many notes, because Mozart does not, unlike Haydn and unlike Beethoven, Mozart does not stop himself from free associative writing and all kinds of ideas appear, and you'll see it later.

There's a big one that we'll have some fun with, that are not needed in the piece, but they make it Mozart. I mean, in other words, they're needed because it's Mozart and it makes the piece better. But you could cut a lot of things out and you would still have a respectable work that we probably wouldn't be listening to.

Now, one more thing about the opening. Excuse me, Orion. This phrase again, this little gesture, this has a little history to it. You feel the sadness in this phrase. This interval, it has a history. It's always pretty much in tonality, evokes some grief. It is called a diminished fourth. If you turn it around, it's an augmented fifth and the most famous, if you slow it down just like that.

The most famous version of it is from The Renaissance by John Dowland. And it's called Flow My Tears. It starts (music) Flow My Tears. And then... (music) And I have it here. In fact, this interval happens so many times in this song. (music) And then when he gets rid of the sharp... (music) he takes this sharp and does this. Then it's beautiful.

Then it goes back to the grief. I want you to hear a little bit of this John Dowland song. Not that Mozart knew it. He certainly didn't. That's not the point. The point is that intervals within the bounds of tonality, there's a language and a grammar and there are intervals that throughout the ages until, in this case, mid-19th century.

These intervals have associations that are very deep. Here is Flow My Tears by John Dowland, sung by Alfred Deller, the first countertenor in modern times.

(music) (singing) Flow my teares fall from your springs, Exilde for ever: Let me morne Where nights black bird hir sad infamy sings, There let me live forlorne.

Would you both play the opening that 's that tune like it's an adagio? Slow, really slow. And you'll see the relationship to this kind of thing is very deep. (music) Thank you. Very good. Now, then you hear this. (music) Where does this come from? It's oppositional. It's the argument. You need to have it. But it also comes right from the phrase before it. (music) Right?

It's close enough. In fact, it's embedded in the entire phrase before it. (music) Now, it might be going too far to say that he was aware of it, but he was aware of everything. So let's put it this way. It's natural and part of the beauty of his technique that everything organically flows into everything else. So if you do sit down with Mozart and listen to every phrase and try to find how the phrases connect, either they connect in some mysterious, magnificent way that you can discover, or you will never discover it.

And that's beautiful, too. But that's what I mean by- we're going to get to a really great one later. Then you have the tune, as you heard, accompanied like this. (music) He could have started the piece that way. Let's start the piece that way. Let's start there and let's pretend that that's how it begins. (music) Okay. Now, you see, at some level it actually works.

And some level it doesn't. What works is it's beautiful, it sounds fine. And then it has its own oppositional tune. (singing) It's fine. What's not fine is that there was a formal and traditional grammar in which an opening theme is stated twice. First in a pure way, and then in a slightly more elaborated way. Now, does that mean that Mozart did things because of tradition?

Basically, tonality and structure form, these were evolving rapidly in his lifetime and he contributed that to it. Every piece that he wrote is a statement about what music could be. At this point, though, it wasn't a tradition that was that old. It was partly what he was doing. Haydn and Mozart and Beethoven overlapped too. Some of you know my favorite story of my teaching a little girl about Haydn and Mozart's lives.

She was too young to know certain things. And I said, "Well, if Haydn lived from here to here. (music) Mozart lived from here to here." And she said, "But from here to here, was Haydn still alive?" I realized I had more on my hands than I figured. So I went immediately back to multiple choice. Anyway, so indeed, there's this theme and it's opposition.

And then there is the theme stated with a more traditional piano accompaniment instead of- and then another opposition. So then he takes that oppositional idea and runs with it, and you get another idea. And another idea which you just heard played. For example, I mean, this (music) then this idea, the answer (music) becomes the whole idea. (music) And eventually we have... (music)

So that's like real life. It's like conversation. He's almost like Harold Pinter in a way, or some playwright who hears how people talk. And when you hear it, you think, "That is how people talk." It sounds crazy and it's hard to follow because that's how people talk. The ideas just keep coming. When a composer, even Beethoven, sticks to one idea for a long time, it's brilliant and exciting, but it's less realistic in certain ways than the way Mozart's conversation just pours out of him.

It doesn't stick to the topic. If you're a playwright and you have the decision to stick to one idea in conversation, the two people on stage are talking about something and they stick to that idea. That's rarely happens. Even in a lecture, for example. What am I talking about right now? I love when I accidentally illustrate a point, but anyway, or maybe not accidentally, but the idea that two people actually talk about one thing or somebody can stick to a topic. In real life this rarely happens.

And when it does, it's kind of alarming. You realize, "This person never stops talking about this one thing." If you follow a real conversation over dinner, for example, it's really something. And that's why when a certain kind of ear puts that on stage, it sounds like it might perhaps be Dadaist or surreal, but it's actually a real conversation.

Mozart does have that ability to let things just unwind and they flow and they turn. One thing turns into another. It just keeps happening. And that's why at the end of this section, when we hear this, (music) that that sounds so right and so familiar, because it has a metrical relationship to the opening, but it's all new notes.

It's in a major key. The intervals are different and it's contrapuntal, so it's actually very different. But we accept it as a perfectly reasonable coda because our minds follow his thought process just the way we follow conversation. Which is easier probably than following what I'm saying, because you, when you're listening, your mind is still contrapuntal. And it would be unbelievable if you weren't thinking of at least five other things while I'm telling you this.

I would like to know what they are and, no, it's okay. Now, then comes the development section. I don't like the expression development section, but I have to use it. Everyone uses it, so I'm stuck because as I just said, it's already highly developed, it's constantly morphing, it's in transition at all times.

One idea leads to another, to another, to another. Formally speaking, there's a double bar, there's a repeat, and now we're in another key and it kind of begins again. So we're calling it a new section. It is, but it's not that different from what he's been doing in terms of process. Can we hear the, let's say right at this section where you hear the piano for a moment alone playing the beginning of the theme.

And then what happens next is something we should get into. Listen carefully. (music) Okay. Yeah, they know to stop there. Great. Excellent. So, what you have there is basically one phrase three times that is transposed and with the instrument switching parts. So even though this is dramatic, this is one of the most formal parts of the piece where Mozart has a conscious awareness of what he's doing.

This is a deliberate technique, which I'll explain in a moment, and then he uses it a lot in other pieces. So I'll give you some examples. Pardon me. Okay, so first, after you hear the theme, (music) we get a repeated note. Now, what Mozart does here- loves to do this in minor keys especially, is the dissonance level becomes very intense.

If this were all strings like a string orchestra, it would sound much more dissonant. But if I slow it down (music) and then you have... (music) And then it happens again. Now it's just modulated. It goes down a fifth. He does it three times. Starting on F sharp. Starting on B. Yes, and starting on E. So we have... (music) Now, I don't know how dissonant that sounds to you these days in 2013.

But if I put those three dots together, it's a cluster. And then the beginning of the next phrase. Of course, it goes by quickly. It's not fair to stand there for a long time. It's like if I jump up in the air and you have a photograph and I remain in the air, that's not really what's happening.

But on the other hand, each phrase begins with an intense cluster. And I say that because we're about to hear another piece where he does exactly the same thing, where you have three short sections, each with a repeated pedal tone, you know, a repeated note that stays for the section. Each is then transposed and dropped a fifth.

It's exactly the same thing. So play this one more time, okay? And then Orion is going to play something from a piano sonata that is exactly the same idea, technically in every way. But all the notes are different. (music) Okay, so I showed you there are three times and the music is exactly the same transposed, except that he divides it between the instruments differently each time.

But they're playing the same thing. Transposed violin gets it, then the piano gets it. They switch around. Now, here in Mozart's A minor piano sonata is, it'll sound different. But if you're listening for what I just described, it's exactly the same. (music) You see what I mean? This is exactly the same. So, for example, if Mozart were to give a composition to students and he didn't have any, he had a lot of piano students, but not composition students.

If he gave someone the... it's somebody's phone I hope. I mean, we have a choice. If we gave them the piano sonata or the violin sonata and asked them to write a parody of it or, you know, parody in music doesn't mean to make fun of it. It means to do the same structure, the same details, but new.

You could get one of the- they're exactly the same. Which I think is somewhat illuminating, because it shows you a level of conscious compositional technique that is interesting to consider Mozart when he, as I said, since he died at 35 and wrote all those pieces I mentioned and I left out the 27 odd operas, that there must have been a very keen intellectual technique, as well as the fact that it must have been so profoundly integrated into his thought process that he probably didn't think that these things were the same.

However, these two pieces were written at the same time. Right next to each other. They were both written in 1778, in the same month, and right after his mother died. So now we're getting to what does his life have to do with his music? I'll say a few things about this, then we'll get back to this. But Mozart, as you know, traveled a lot.

And in fact, there were periods when he traveled even as a child for three years without going home. With his father in the beginning and with his sisters, both of them child performers. And then, of course, he traveled and traveled all the time. And you have to bear in mind that it was almost as bad as American Airlines or something at the time. Cancelations, bad weather, unexplained technical problems, nothing to eat.

So it was tough and horses and carriages and mud and all of this. But the other thing is that Mozart was trying to carve out a career that was what his father wanted him to do as opposed to what he wanted to do. And both of them involved him being a composer and musician, but his father wanted him to have a prestigious position at an institution. Something I'm against personally for myself.

But anyway, he therefore went to Paris. His mother went with him, which was something his father felt had to happen. He needed to have parental supervision, and it was very bad. And his mother became very ill and she died while they were in Paris together. And he wrote his only minor, well, only one of two minor piano sonatas right then and his only minor violin sonata right then.

So to make a link between his life and his music is probably not a stretch. At the same time, though, during that period of, let's say, six months around that time, he wrote a lot of other music that does not seem to reflect this, but these two pieces stick out and they're related and they have that exact same passage.

And that passage has a kind of dissonance in it, like right here. (music) Now it's more obvious on the piano because here in the violin sonata, it's divided between instruments and range and it's more delicate. But in the piano sonata, he's not delicate at all. (music) In fact, if you take the bass, you have... (music) I'm going to slow it down. Not that much.

It's really quite unbelievably dissonant. And then it happens when it's transposed again. (music) It's intense. Nobody wrote like that at that time. And for some reason, dissonance always causes a lot of trouble. (bell ringing) Alright. I think it's for the dog. It's probably. Mozart's K nine was written for a dog. No, it wasn't. I'm just trying.

I'm trying. Alright? Okay. When a composer writes very dissonant music, it always causes a furor. People always say he didn't know what he was doing. He must have been distraught. It just goes on and on. It's always like that. And then when we look back, we always take the most dissonant passages which are not dissonant to us now, and it's always been like this and say, "Aren't they brilliant?"

So just bear that in mind. It's just a strange phenomenon. It has to do with pain and the need to resolve, which cannot happen. You can't get resolution without the pain. There's nothing to resolve. So Mozart here does the perfect classical way of handling this dissonance, which is it's intensely dissonant, stretching beyond the borders of what was acceptable.

But he does it three times, transposes it down a fifth each time, giving you a beautiful circle of fifths, which is perfectly classical. So by doing it three times, we accept it by the third time in a new way, even when we've heard it 100 times. Could you play that passage one more time and then that'll be it for the Piano Sonata?

Bear in mind the dissonance and how when you hear it the second time down a fifth, it has a logic now that it doesn't have when it starts. (music) Great. And now talking about form and how form works with dissonance and expression, and whether a composer in this case, especially Mozart, is writing really about his feelings, his life at that time.

Is it possible? I mean, it's not like he's grief stricken and in that state of mind, he can write this. You have to be in the state of mind to write music, which is not the same state of mind as being grief stricken and depressed. But you need to retain that the way an actor retains an emotional memory and can call it up to use it properly.

You know, it's the same technique. And so Mozart often would find a classical form and infuse it with a kind of pain and emotional quality that that form had never had before. We're going to hear it in the second movement. It's very much so. But here's a really famous example of the G minor string quintet. Again, in one of the few minor pieces he wrote in which it's a minuet, but the mood of the minuet has nothing to do with any other minuet, and it is punctuated by violent, almost sword-like stabbings.

It is very powerful. And this is not a kind of minuet that anyone would be dancing to. (music) Okay. So anyway, you see that, that, in that time, in his time, a minuet being turned into something dark and violent. It's very violent. And of course, you're hearing this on a recording. When it's live and especially if you're happened to be the person playing it.

It's a very violent disruption of the time signature and the harmonic palette. It's just very violent. It does make sense because in that period, unless it's maybe comedy, you can't not have the logic and turn the logic of music. In fact, Mozart wrote in one of his letters to his father that is, he was writing about in Don Giovanni, so that even if a person is singing about something terrifying and horrible, it must still sound like music.

And he was thinking about that. Not everybody agrees anymore, but, in fact, his father was one of the few people who, as a composer, tried some things. In fact, it's really funny about that phone because his father, Leopold Mozart, wrote a piece that had dogs in it. I'm glad you did that. I probably would have forgotten this.

Mozart's father was like the (inaudible) Bach of his time. He really was. And he wrote several funny pieces. He wrote the famous Toy Symphony. It's by Leopold Mozart, not by Haydn, but he also wrote a piece that had three dogs that had to bark on cue. It would be so much easier now with sampling. I guess he was ahead of his time.

Okay, now moving on with this piece, because we must get to the second movement and then hear the whole thing. The recapitulation comes. Can you start right at the recapitulation? What happens here is that the violin is innocently going to play the same melody, but the pianist has a new role to play entirely. The pianist is actually sort of violently trying to stop or interrupt the violinist from playing the melody. (music) And you go.

Okay, so you have now heard this tune four times. The first time it's unison by itself. The second time there's a lovely piano accompaniment. The third time is the beginning of the development, where suddenly these series of dissonant ideas occur. And now with the recapitulation, this is the fourth time and again it's different. It is never the same.

There is no return of anything that's really the same, and especially if you count the music leading into it or out of it. So it is a phrase that's transposed, but it's the same. It is only going to be that phrase. It'll be bled into or surrounded by something brand new. Now there are lots of other little things.

Let's look at right before the double bar. This thing. Yeah. Remember Mozart ended the first part, the exposition with this, (music) with something that sounded like rhythmically. So this happens again. But now it's in the original key of E minor and yet it's again different. Let's hear that. It's a new version of it yet again. (music) And then what happens is you finally get the opening theme in the most, I wouldn't say ordinary, but the most commonplace way that he sets it at all.

That's how he ends the movement. Let's just play that last part. (music) And, of course, Mozart writes a chord for the violin, three note chord so that the open E must be played. You can't finger that. You want to play just that last thing and you hear all three notes? (music) Yeah, he keeps the other two fingers busy, and so you have no choice.

You can't use your A string to play the E, so you get that open E, which is very heartfelt and it's more dramatic. The piano part here is more typical of ordinary writing, in a way, and by saving it for the end, it's fresh. And it's the only time we hear something kind of comfortable and familiar.

And because it's the last time you hear it, it doesn't sound ordinary. Now, Mozart sometimes starts with something like that, but he will change it in such a way to make it breathless like this. (music) The accompaniment is pretty simple. I hope that you start to hear immediately that in every piece of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven in some way there is this argument of force and some sort of either resistance or weakness or something.

And I think it makes, historically it makes sense because it was a reaction to Baroque music. If you want to think of it purely in musical terms, which is pretty much what composers would be doing, it evolved because in Baroque music, if you think of Bach or any composer from the Baroque period, there's a long line and there is not.

Forget oratorios. In instrumental music and vocal music that is not dramatic, there's a long line and it's one emotion at a time. You're not going to get, as you would in Mozart, for example, an opposing force. You're going to get one beautiful line or one dramatic line, but it's one at a time, and they end. And each movement will have one, what was called affect.

That was the emotional quality. So one of the things that starts to change since every new era is a reaction in some way against and an extension of a tradition. One of the first things that happens is the phrases get shorter in the classical period and they become argumentative. And that argumentative thing is built into the grammar. So that's the way to listen.

And now you would never have a hesitation on a multiple choice test with that question. Okay. I think what we should do is hear the entire- how about what if we break these into first movement and then second movement? So let's hear the whole first movement and then we'll look at the second movement. There only are two movements.

So we'll be able to do all of it. Here's the first one. I think maybe no repeats because we don't have that much time. Especially if he tunes, there's no time. (music)

Well, I've been talking a little bit about the intersection of real life and the music. Actually, I'm just going to read this. And these letters are very famous, but you need to hear the letters between Leopold and his son Wolfgang. At the time that his mother died. First, the reason I want to read these, aside from that it's impossible not to with this music, is that the question that keeps arising...

And it's going to come up in all four lectures with different composers, is the relationship of a composer to a received form like a minuet or sonata, traditional grammar, syntax and their personal view. And the composer's real life. And the fact that all these great composers in that period are not going to take a form and use it like it's an exercise.

The form has to live through real ideas. Therefore, the fact that there's to be an opposition between, let's say, a delicate melody and a forceful musical tune or gesture against it like we heard, that tradition is not going to be nice for Mozart, not going to be usable, not going to be interesting if it doesn't reflect what's going on in the world that he lives in.

Now, of course, it reflects the life of a composer with an aristocracy, but that's very generalized. And I think that that can inform his music, but it's not going to be hundreds of pieces, thousands of pieces that he wrote. So here is something that relates to these two pieces, the E minor sonata and a little bit of what you heard of the A minor piano sonata.

First of all, Mozart and his mother were living in a very small apartment in Paris together, and she became very ill. And I'm sure you realize that the medicine at the time in Europe was basically nonexistent. The kinds of things that were prescribed for her included rhubarb pie, wine and meat. I mean, and of course, bleeding.

These were the three... they had no idea what they were doing, but they charged a lot. So some things haven't changed. No. Anyway, so Mozart was so afraid to write a letter to his father to say that his mother had died, that he wrote a letter saying that she was very ill after she had died because she didn't want him to get the first letter saying she died.

So he prepared him. He wrote several letters and then he wrote another one saying It's getting really bad that she's not going to make it. And then he wrote a letter saying that she died one after another very quickly. Of course, Leopold found out that she had died through somebody else. But anyway, their relationship is very intense here.

And so here are some highlights from the letters. Here's Mozart saying to Leopold, "As she fell ill a few days after the bloodletting, she must have been suffering since June 16th or 17th." Oh, no, sorry. This is Leopold. "She must have been suffering since June 16th and 17th. Surely you waited too long." Now, this is because Leopold wanted him to have her bled, and Mozart was being told by people that that doesn't work.

It's a bad idea. Don't bleed her. So he didn't do it. And then he finally gave in because his father said, "You have to do it." So this is what that letter is about. "Surely you waited too long. She hoped to cure herself by resting in bed, by dieting, by treating herself." So he was saying that that's not going to work.

"Perhaps she wasn't bled sufficiently. It is quite certain that she trusted too much of her strength and called in the doctor much too late. In the meantime, the internal inflammation must have gained the upper hand." Then, Mozart writes back, Wolfgang, "First of all, I must tell you that my dear departed mother had to die. No doctor in the world could have saved her this time, for it was clearly the will of God.

Her time had come and God wanted to take her to himself. You think she put off being bled until it was too late? That may be. She did postpone it a little, but I rather agree with the people here who tried to dissuade her from being bled and to persuade her to take a lavement," which was a bath. Better than bleeding though.

So then Leopold then writes back, "You..." This gets bad. "You had your engagements. You were away all day. And if she didn't make a fuss, you treated her condition lightly. All this time, her illness became more serious. In fact, mortal. And only then was a doctor called in. And of course, it was too late."

Then he writes, still Leopold, "Well, it is over, God willed it. The unbreakable chain of divine providence preserved your mother's life when you were born, though indeed she was in very grave danger. And although we almost thought she was gone, but she was fated to sacrifice herself for her son in a different way." Again, Leopold Mozart, "She readily agreed to leave Salzburg with you.

When I was hoping to have back from Mannheim. If your mother had returned from Mannheim, she would not have died." Then, it's building. He ends the letter by saying, "I hope that you, after having your mother die so inappropriately in Paris that you will not have the furtherance of your father's death on your conscience."

Okay. Could you play the opening of that right now? No. It's quite unbelievable. Hmm. And so when you hear that beautiful melody and then these powerful oppositions, it is very hard not to hear some of this as between Wolfgang and Leopold. Now, the next movement, the last movement is extremely unusual. Again, it's a minuet. And like the G minor minuet that I played for you, it is a sad, sorrowful and strange minuet. And I can describe it to you, although you'll hear it.

I'm just going to encapsulate what happens. It begins with a very simple but in a minor key, so darker than typical minuet melody. They share it, but it starts to become intensely more chromatic. In other words, it moves into sharps that are not only in the key. It has pressure on the harmony. It starts to feel more dark and it becomes almost ruptured, there's so much of it.

And the texture becomes very, very thick. But in the middle, and I'm going to skip a few things, but in the middle of this there's a trio. There is always a minuet in a trio. In the middle, the trio is in E major and it's very delicate and very light, very airy, and it has no dissonance at all. Then it goes back and it is even more dissonant than it was before.

And then it comes to an ending. So it's possible to hear this whole sonata in terms of these letters because, and I'm not saying you must, but it's interesting to think of. Because the first movement has this argument and it has Mozart's, all of his feelings about his mother and all this anger coming back after each one of these statements. Then in this one, you have what is sorrow getting darker and darker.

And perhaps it's guilt, perhaps it's anger, whatever it is. And then in the middle of it is perhaps a memory or something. His mother appears kind of in the middle of this or either that or it's a desire for peace or to get away from all of this in the middle of it. And then it returns.

Now, I want you to hear a few parts of it before you hear the whole thing. First of all, if you remember, some of you were probably at the last set of lectures and I talked about the descending lamenting bass of the Baroque period. Which is (music) and if it's chromatic... (music) It starts in the Renaissance, actually. But by the time the late Baroque comes, it is a symbol of death to have a baseline that descends, and even more so a chromatic baseline.

And in the last set of lectures, I'm not going to repeat all of these, play all the same audio samples, but you heard Dido and Aeneas in which this is very important, and you heard something from the B minor mass of Bach in which this is extremely important. And we were talking about Smetana, who, writing about the deaths of his children, has that same descending line over and over and over again.

And the song I played for you before A Flow of My Tears from the Renaissance by Dowland starts with the... (music) Only it's in the tune and then the other interval. So it is a statement of grief in the purest possible way. This begins with the bass line. It's very delicate in the piano. (music) I'm bringing it out ridiculously so you'll hear it.

Orion will play it beautifully. And then you also hear it chromatically later. But maybe I should...

Yeah. When you have the triplets... (music) And there it is. And you also have something very unusual in a minuet, which is a little bit of what's called an (inaudible) or a a short cadenza on a dominant chord. A short cadenza in the piano where everything stops and it brings it back. Why don't we hear the opening piano gesture so, just until up to here.

And then the two of you can play is something that leads into this. Here's the very beginning. (music) And then when the violin comes in, it's, maybe just play the next phase and listen to the bass in the piano. It becomes much clearer. It's the same descending bass. (music) (singing) Wow. Now it's chromatic. (singing)

Okay. You don't need to hear it now until they perform it straight through how this becomes more thicker and darker and denser. But let's go to the spot right before the cadenza, because this is extremely unusual in a minuet. And everything about this is unusual. The idea that there are classical forms that are repeated in every piece by any composer is actually not really true.

They're just rhetoric. Basic sense of syntax. But no two sonatas by Mozart are really the same. As are none by Beethoven. They're all different and they're very individualized. And this particular cadenza obviously has to do with Mozart's feelings about his mother's death. (music) Yeah. Now, that may not sound incredibly dark and depressing to you now, but it descends to the lowest part of the keyboard, and it sits there, and then it has to be pulled up to go back to where it was.

You might think of that more because there's nothing that indicates that it needs to do that. But I think if you spend a really long time on the B and make the trill more intense, then work your way up chromatically. Let's just try it and see if you can make it as depressing as I'm saying it is. (music) I mean, yeah, it's getting there.

I mean, you can't go overboard with it. But the only thing that I might add to that is to sit on the B longer than is comfortable. Let's just try that. One more time and then we'll keep going. (music) Okay? We can do this for a long time, but I'm enjoying it. Now, I'm not going to ask them to play the beautiful shiny middle section until they play straight through it, because it sort of takes away its quality.

But there is a very important aspect of Mozart's sense of structure that I'd like to demonstrate here. I'm going to ask him to play the end of the entire movement starting, where did we say we were going to start? Let's see. How about starting- oh, yeah, right after the second ending. But with that one amendment. Okay, so here's the ending of this movement. (music) Now, it works great.

If you know the piece well, something bothered you. If you don't, it sounds fine. Here's a multiple choice. No, I won't do that. We took out a substantial piece of that ending. What we took out doesn't need to be there from a traditional structural point of view. It is just not part of the structure or the syntax. But it's what makes Mozart, Mozart.

It is something new right before the ending that is gorgeous. Now let's do it the way it was written. Here's how this ends. (music)

Isn't that interesting? It's probably the most beautiful tune in the entire work. It's only there right before the end. Now I'm going to ask them to play straight through it and I'm going to make a little bit of a request.

When you get to that, if you can just this much make it slower than the rest of the piece, just for me and even quieter than you would think, just so that we hear how strange it is that it's there. Okay? This is fun. Okay. And don't forget to wait for the gorgeous E major section where you can dream of Mozart's mother without Leopold. (music)


Well, thank you. And we are actually ending at the right time, which bodes well for the next few lectures. And next week, Richard Strauss. See you then. We hope you enjoyed the podcast. Visit ChamberMusicSociety.org to watch videos of these lectures as well as masterclasses and concert performances. And while you're there, check out the calendar of upcoming Chamber Music Society events in New York and around the world. See you next time.