Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Sonata for Violin and Piano in G Major, K. 301

Program notes for Tippet Rise Art Center, August 3, 2018.
© Benjamin Pesetsky 2018. Not to be reprinted without permission.

In 1772, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was named Konzertmeister to the Salzburg Court, a title he had held in an honorary capacity since 1769, when he was just 13 years old. But in 1777 he grew dissatisfied with the post and asked permission to leave. The Archbishop reacted badly, unceremoniously firing both Wolfgang and his father, Leopold Mozart, who also worked as a court musician and had not intended to leave. Fortunately the situation was soon smoothed over: Leopold was reappointed, and Wolfgang was granted leave to seek employment elsewhere.

Acting on Leopold’s instructions, Mozart and his mother, Maria Anna, left Salzburg to search for a new position elsewhere in Europe. Their first stop was Munich, where Mozart was introduced to a set of violin sonatas by the composer Joseph Schuster (1748–1812). He sent a copy home to his sister Nannerl with a note: “I have often played them here; they are by no means bad. If I remain long enough, I intend to compose six in this style, for it is much liked here.” However, he soon left Munich without a job offer and traveled on to Mannheim, where he aspired to a job at its “famous court, whose rays like those of the sun illuminate the whole of Germany,” as Leopold floridly described it. In Mannheim, Mozart began a set of new violin sonatas modeled after those of Schuster. These give greater prominence to the violin, in contrast to Mozart’s earlier violin sonatas, which placed more emphasis on the piano.

The Violin Sonata No. 18 in G Major is Mozart’s first in the newer style, and remains one of his warmest, most recognizable violin pieces. The first movement immediately proclaims the equality of violin and piano: the amiable melody is first presented in the violin with keyboard accompaniment, but then—after a brief intrusion—the instruments switch, with the piano playing the melody and the violin accompanying. The second movement rolls along with similar exchanges, its recurring theme set between varied episodes in a rondo form. Like many of Mozart’s violin sonatas, the piece has just two movements.

Still without a job offer, Mozart left Mannheim in March 1778 and continued on to Paris with his mother. There he published the Sonata No. 18 as part of his Op. 1 collection. The trip, however, took a tragic turn as his mother grew ill and died on July 3, far from home in the French capital. Mozart wrote to a family friend in Salzburg, who broke the news to Leopold in person.

Mozart left Paris alone and once again without a job, and returned to Salzburg where he resumed working for the court he had hoped to leave. He stayed another three years before moving to Vienna in 1781 to freelance—after Salzburg, he would never again hold a full-time salaried position.