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About this Piece

Inasmuch as Mozart composed for virtually every conceivable form known to an 18th-century genius, it’s no surprise that he wrote a sonata for two keyboards. The surprise is that he didn’t write the sonata for himself and his sister Nannerl as he had done when he produced some very youthful duets – four hands at one piano. These duets were trotted out by the Mozart kids for their father-exploited appearances at important salons, just as his 1779 Concerto in E-flat for Two Pianos was composed as a vehicle for the brother-sister duo. In the case of his sole sonata for two pianos – the present work – we find the first piano part to have been intended, not for sister, but for a certain Josepha von Auernhammer who, if the gossip were true, was in pursuit of our Wolfgang, at the time, in 1781, still a bachelor.

If Wolfgang didn’t give his young student his love, he did present her with a gem of a piece and the opportunity to perform it with him. Thank you, Fräulein, for rousing your piano teacher to give you such a splendid gift – a gift that hasn’t stopped giving. The Sonata, an example of Mozart at his most galant, is no less admirable for being strictly for entertainment; within the framework of its finely crafted classical structure is music of pure joy – graceful, songful, elegant, and virtuosic. Again, not surprisingly, he made a masterwork his first (and only) time working in the form.

The first movement opens with forte octaves in both pianos, and these give way to a theme of typical Mozartean lightness. The upward running scales, following and overlapping each other, set the pattern of delicious continuity throughout the ebullient movement. The Andante is much like a slow movement of a Mozart piano concerto, with the second piano acting as the orchestra in accompanying the song-like first theme presented by its partner. True duet togetherness returns with a repeated, overlapping phrase going from one piano to the other. Here the texture is crystalline, cameo-like, and the very economy of notes is a challenge to the performers’ tonal resourcefulness.

A rondo movement of dash and verve brings the Sonata to a rousing finale. In its pages are elements of the wondrous Mozart humor, including a section of gypsy-like flavor. The contrasts are beguiling, and the freshness of the work is a testament to Mozart’s pianistic and musical ingenuity.

Orrin Howard, who served the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association for many years as Director of Publications and Archives, continues to contribute to the program book.