Program Notes

Evolution happens. Violin sonatas mature. By the time Mozart settled in Vienna (beginning in 1781) the violin, formerly downgraded as the piano’s disposable accompanist, had been promoted to a full-fledged participant in a bona fide duo in which neither instrument calls the shots. For a violin and piano to trade a theme back and forth, much less indulge in mid-phrase handoffs, would have been almost unthinkable in the early days, but in Mozart’s later Vienna sonatas such dialogue became a regular and welcome occurrence.

Mozart may have been prolific, but he was also a world-class procrastinator. His tendency to play fast and loose with deadlines was in full flower with the Violin Sonata in B-flat major, K.454, which he wrote for an April 1784 concert with violinist Regina Strinasacchi at Vienna’s K√§rntnerthor Theater. Scrambling against the clock as usual, he just managed to write out Strinsacchi’s part, but not his own, so he performed the sonata by memory with a blank sheet of music paper in front of him. (It is said that Emperor Joseph II saw through the subterfuge via a pair of opera glasses.)

Dash to the finish line or not, the Violin Sonata offers up Mozart at his fully-matured best. An imposing opening Largo emphasizes the absolute equality of the two instruments as they trade figures back and forth, before launching into an immaculately crafted sonata-form Allegro that sports the free-form development section so typical of Mozart. The second-place Andante is essentially an operatic aria transplanted into a sonata; all it needs is words and a stage setting. To conclude, a deliciously elegant Allegretto gives us an excellent example of the recently-evolved “sonata-rondo” form that, as the name implies, addresses the dangerously repetitive nature of rondo by applying the developmental logic of sonata form.—Scott Foglesong

Scott Foglesong is a Contributing Writer to the San Francisco Symphony program book.

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