Thursday, April 05, 2007

K. 331 and Me

Let me begin by saying that I'm going to use the Köchel numbers where possible, the original K1 versions, not the silly and equally obscure K6 revision. For the most part, the Köchel numbers are infinitely more useful and time-saving than saying, "Piano sonata no. 11 in A major." Look it up if you get confused. With that slightly annoyed preface out of the way, we can get to the meat of the matter.

I am almost in love with K. 331. In my mind, that sonata is one of the strongest proofs for the really towering genius of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The opening theme (in the Andante), the beginning of which looks like, (danke, Wikipedia)

is simplicity defined. The lyricism and elegance of that theme, and its impressive variations - all of which show Mozart as a man in complete mastery of his craft - is generally never matched in music. Even Beethoven's formidable Hammerklavier impresses with sheer power and muscularity: not this simple, polite theme. Mozart offers a massive come-on, not unlike Bach's aria from the Goldberg Variations. Whatever happens in K. 331, it happens sweetly and cleverly. I'll return to the Hammerklavier, not because you can compare them, but because they are two examples of two different masters at work. After the beginning of the Beethoven work, nothing surprises. Nothing could be that raw and impressive. Mozart makes you wait for the payoff.

I'll suppose that my readers, however many of them there are, are familiar enough with K. 331 that I can skip a detailed explication of the Menuetto and Rondo alla Turca (an Allegretto, as the case seems to be). However, some remarks are in order for the two movements. The Menuetto stays true to its origins in the dance. I think Mozart deviates a little from the classical form of it, but that's another matter where some expert can set me happily straight. It's another delicate, seemingly simple piece of writing that says more in its precision and balance than do many late-Romantic "masterworks." Mozart, if it could be said this way, was the master of the mot juste. He does not belabor any point in K. 331.

The Rondo alla Turca, one of the more-famous pieces of his (i.e., it has penetrated the usually impenetrable world of popular culture in a way reserved for some Bach, one movement of one concerto by Vivaldi, some Beethoven, and some Handel) is - at first blush - a showy, exuberant example of "Turkish music." Listen to it again, though. Is there a single phrase out-of-balance? Is there a note that doesn't seem perfectly placed. This movement, while this could be said of any of them, really gives truth to Salieri's comment from Amadeus (definitely in the film, but it could be in the play; however, my copy is about 100 miles away): "And music, finished as no music is ever finished. Displace one note and there would be diminishment. Displace one phrase and the structure would fall."

That, I suppose, is why I really love K.331. It's perfect, but it isn't a glittering perfection like a hand-cut diamond. It's the sort of perfection that comes into existence on its own. It, despite the sweetness and lyricism of the sonata, is a perfection that is elemental. It has always been there and it always will be. On scope, this sonata (for me, and others can disagree) is as monumental as anything else in music - and the better of most solo keyboard music after Bach. This sonata, little, simple K.331, is really so perfectly balanced that it is like building a skyscraper on one glass pillar. It could be done, but only a genius of a structural engineer could do it and do it well.

That's Mozart. While I am not the biggest fan of some of his operas and more than a few of the symphonies that I have heard (not all), K.331 will always ensure him a place in my personal musical pantheon. To say nothing of the rest of his major works.


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