Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Rondo in A minor, K. 511

Written for the Tippet Rise Art CenterNot to be reprinted without permission.

The rondo is a form built from departures and returns: a fixed melody keeps coming back, interspersed with forays into changing material. Most are lively pieces, building anticipation toward each inevitable reprise—at a quick tempo, they make good finales. But there are also slow rondos, where each return of the melody suggests an inescapable sadness. Mozart’s A-minor Rondo is of this kind.

This is one of three rondos Mozart wrote in 1786–87, years in which he was largely working on operas rather than piano music. But as much as its melody resembles that of an aria, its silky figurations and chromatic turns presage Frédéric Chopin, who one imagines must have known and drawn inspiration from this piece half a century later.

Benjamin Pesetsky is a composer and writer. He serves on the staff of the San Francisco Symphony and also contributes program notes for the Philadelphia Orchestra and Melbourne Symphony.