AQA A-Level Notes: Mozart: Piano Sonata in A



By the 1780s Mozart had toured all Europe and had been hailed as a genius from an early age. Despite this, the period leading up to his move to Vienna in 1781 was in many ways an unhappy one: now that he was in his twenties the label of child prodigy (and the stardom that came with it) was no longer, and he failed to procure a suitable court post. Thus, in 1778, the opportunity to return to work for Archbishop Colloredo in Salzburg was one that could not be rejected, even though his previous employment there had been far from satisfactory. Once again Mozart became half-hearted about his duties: his employer required more religious works for the cathedral, whereas Mozart’s interests seem to have been more concerned with instrumental and secular music. The final straw came in 1781 when Mozart returned from Munich following a successful production of the opera Idomeneo. Back in Salzburg he was once again treated like a servant and shortly afterwards secured his release from these duties, spurred on by the thought that he could probably make a freelance living in Vienna.

There are differing views as to exactly when the A major sonata (K331) was composed, with most scholars suggesting 1781 as the correct year (although whether or not it was written before or after his move to Vienna is also unclear). However, in the sleeve notes to Marta Deyanova’s recording (Nimbus NI1775), David Threasher states that paper studies have challenged this view and that the correct date of composition is somewhere around the late summer months of 1783.

K331 is the second in a set of three sonatas (K330-332) and has several interesting features that can be noted. First is his use of a theme and variation design for the first movement: Mozart typically used a sonata-form Allegro for the first movement in most of his piano sonatas and, while variations do occur in other sonatas (e.g. K284), they are not used to open the work. He was admired widely for his sets of variations and further evidence of his aptitude for composing in this genre can be gathered from the widespread contemporary accounts of his improvisations during concerts.

Second, the use of the title ‘alla Turca’ for the last movement is not quite the obscure exoticism it first appears; during the second half of the eighteenth century there was a vogue across Europe (and especially in Vienna) for the incorporation of things Turkish into art music. Primarily this involved the use of much percussion and cymbals, although the term ‘alla Turca’ usually refers more specifically to music for military band with Turkish percussion instruments or, more generally, music that copies the effect of Turkish band music, a feature of which many composers made use, including Haydn (in various operas and symphonies – e.g. symphony no.100), Gluck and Michael Haydn. Mozart’s use of the style is not confined to this piano sonata alone, since it can be found in the violin concerto K219 and, most notably, in the singspiel Die Entführung aus dem Serail. Other than using percussion instruments, the style is typically very noisy, rhythmic and usually in duple time, features which are immediately recognisable in the finale of K431, where, for example, the use of loudly-spread left hand chords in the A major passages is clearly meant to produce a percussive effect. Incidentally, the popularity of the style was such that from the turn of the nineteenth century many fortepianos were built with percussion instruments attached which could be played by using an added ‘Turkish music’ stop or pedal.

Apart from its foreign influences, the last movement has two other interesting features. The first of these concerns its structure; the movement is a rondo but, unusually, the first theme occurs only twice (traditionally, in rondo form the first theme is presented most frequently in the piece). Therefore, the A major idea from bar 25 becomes the more important as the movement progresses, occurring three times and forming the basis of the coda. Also, Mozart extensively repeats melodic ideas within sections. For example, in bars 8-16 the same melodic idea occurs four times (the second two times transposed down a minor third), and the A major passage at bars 25-32 consists of a repeated motif, with the ending modified on the repeat to allow a perfect cadence to close the phrase. This is a recurrent feature, especially in the coda.

It is worth noting that each movement of the sonata is based around the tonality of A. This is unusual as there is typically a change of key for the second movement to provide a necessary tonal contrast. One can only presume that Mozart considered the huge diversity of material presented in the piece to be sufficient to dispense with this need.


Movement 1

Andante grazioso
Key: A major
Structure: Theme and six variations (with coda added to the sixth)

Variation / Bar What Happens Comment
Theme 1-4 The main motif, ending (with an imperfect cadence) on a dominant chord of E major.
5-8 A repeat of the previous phrase, which deviates in bar 7 to bring the phrase to a close with a perfect cadence in A major. The melody is presented prior to variation development in its simplest form. This first section is divided into two short phrases which form a classic antecedant - consequent pair.
9-12 RH develops the dotted idea from bar 1.
13-16 Repeat of bars 5-8 with a slight change of cadence in bar 16 to finish on a softer, feminine perfect cadence.

A two-bar extension of the previous phrase; the melodic shape of bar 15 is repeated up a third, closing with a stronger perfect cadence in the tonic A major.
I / 1-4 The theme is decorated in the RH with mostly semitonal appoggiaturas. The LH fills in with sparse chords outlining the harmony, which is the same as in the original theme.
I / 5-8 The character is suddenly changed with a switch from piano to a bold forte. The RH outlines the rising thirds of the original, but with appoggiaturas on the fourth quaver of bars 5 and 6. The texture suddenly thickens; the LH semiquaver pulse and the sudden change in dynamics heightens the dramatic effect. The immediate change from p to f was seen originally only at the end of the theme in bar 17-18. The rhythmic drive of the semiquavers in the RH in the previous four bars is maintained by the LH here. Decoration is added on a smaller scale by features such as the trill in the RH in bar 7.
I / 9-18 The same development techniques used in bars 1-4 are used until bar 17, where the texture reverts to that of bars 5-8.
II / 1-4 The RH again outlines the shape of the theme, decorating it with trills and joining up the falling perfect fourths between successive bars of the original with scalic demi-semiquavers. The original legato of the theme is broken up by staccato articulation. Whereas in Variation I the semiquaver momentum started first in the RH before transferring to the LH, the opposite occurs here, and the semiquavers are played as triplets, making for a busier texture. This is increased by the use of RH trills.
II / 5-8 As in Variation I there is a sudden increase in dynamics. The semiquaver triplets are taken over by the RH in falling arpeggio figurations that clearly spell out the harmonic progressions. The LH punctuates this with rising octave leaps; acciaccaturas are used to further liven the texture.
II / 9-18 The music uses the same developmental techniques (as in bars 1-4) until bars 17-18, where the RH arpeggiation from bars 5-8 returns.
III / 1-4 The key changes from A major to a minor and the LH takes up an Alberti-style figuration. The RH initially plays a flowing line that moves mostly by step, outlining the original theme in shape, based on the notes on quavers 1 and 4 in each bar. Bars 3-4 wander somewhat from the original theme, but retain the same overall harmonic movement; however, slight changes can be observed such as the absence of an F in the harmony at the start of bar 3 and the lack of chord IV on the third quaver of the following bar. The key change to a plaintive minor provides an effective change of atmosphere and mood. Whereas the third bar of the original theme contained an F-sharp in the bass and an E in the inner part, this harmony cannot be replicated here in a minor version since F natural against E would sound distastefully dissonant.
III / 5-8 A repeat of bars 1-4, modified to retain the original harmonic scheme, leading back to the tonic. The RH interest is increased by its playing in octaves instead of as a single line. This is the first time that the theme has been explored in an octave other than the original.
III / 9-12 The RH more vaguely imitates the shape of the theme. The RH in bars 9-10 (and LH in bar 10) often alternates between a note and its immediate neighbour. The harmonic scheme sees some subtle changes, such as the transient hint of a move to d minor produced by the C-sharp in the LH at bar 9.3. Also, in the second half of bar 11, the expected dominant seventh harmony is replaced by a diminished seventh. The imperfect cadence in bar 12 is altered so that the dominant chord is approached chromatically from a diminished seventh based on D-sharp. The extended alternation between a note and its neighbour is a development of the same feature in the very opening of the theme, where the melody starts on C-sharp, rises to D and returns to the C-sharp.
III / 13-18 Repeat of bars 5-8 with the RH octaves removed. They are replaced for the affirming phrase in bars 17-18.
IV / 1-8 A return to A major. The LH crosses over the RH to double it an octave higher, the rising and falling thirds outlining the theme’s shape. The bass notes point out the shifts in harmony, which is the same as the original apart from in bars 3 and 7, where the rising VI-VII-I bass line is replaced by simpler tonic and dominant chords. Also, the expected chord IV at bar 4.3, is omitted. As in Variations I and II the is a sudden change from p to f at bar 5. The use of a bass note only on the change of harmony creates the illusion of a slower harmonic pace. Together with the gentle rising and falling thirds, this gives the variation a graceful poise.
IV / 9-12 The semiquaver movement is taken up by the LH, with the melody in the RH. Chromatic appoggiaturas are added at the mid-point of bars 9 and 10. At bar 11, the RH develops the falling shapes of the original, using falling scales instead of arpeggio-type figures. The use of sforzando in bar 11 occurs here for the first time since the theme.
IV / 13-18 Repeat of the same ideas as in bars 1-8. The variation finishes with a pause, intended to set the mood for the change of tempo in the more introspective adagio that follows.
V / 1-4 The tempo slows to an adagio and the LH takes up a gently-flowing Alberti bass. The RH applies appoggiaturas to the harmony note on the fourth quaver of bars 1 and 2, continuing with the same idea in bar 3. The falling scale at the end of the bar had been used previously in Variation II. In bar 4, each quaver beat is decorated with a turn. Appoggiaturas have been used in bars 1 and 2 of Variation I, but there they approached the harmony note chromatically from below. The extensive use of turns and appoggiaturas shows this to be the most intricately-decorated version of the melody.
V / 5-8 The RH slides chromatically through the characteristic rise of a minor third. The rising scales in the RH in bars 5 and 6, and the repeated notes in bar 7, provide an aria-like quality. The variation is permeated throughout with a vocalise feel through the RH decorations (consider that traditionally, singers used ornaments and embellishments in Da Capo arias). Vocal characteristics can be found elsewhere in Mozart’s instrumental music; for example the slow movement of his piano concerto in A (K488).
V / 9-12 In the first two bars, the RH makes passing reference to the shape of the theme through the E at 9.1, the F-sharp at 9.5 and the E at 10.5. This outline is interpolated with an exploration of wider intervals; notice how bar 9 falls through a fifth, rises a sixth and plummets through a tenth before dashing up through a two-octave D major scale. G-naturals in bars 9 and 10 show a transient modulation to D major. Another harmonic change is the third quaver of bar 12, where the expected D-sharp-based chord (usually in the context of a chord VII in E major) is replaced by a simple A major tonic chord. This is the first time this harmony has been substantially changed.
Bars 11-12 create a forward momentum by condensing the distance between the falling figures from a dotted crotchet in bar 11 to a quaver at the start of bar 12.
V / 13-16 Basically, this is a repeat of bars 1-2 followed by 7-8. The falling appoggiaturas on the fourth quaver of bars 13 and 14 are answered by rising chromatic ones an octave higher.
V / 17-18 A brisk flourish in bar 17 subsides to close the variation in bar 18. Bar 17 starts with the RH weaving decorations around the rising third of the original theme, before flying up an A major scale. The peak of the phrase is in bar 18, with an octave leap onto E followed by falling arpeggios, bringing the music to close at the same pitch as the original theme. Mozart has made a feature of rising scales in this variation (bars 5, 6, 10 and 17). A pause at the end of the variation prepares the next tempo change for the last variation.
VI / 1-4 The time signature changes to common . In bars 1 and 2, the RH uses appoggiaturas in a similar fashion to Variation V and adds acciaccaturas. Bar 3 drives the phrase onward with offbeat chromatically-rising quavers.
VI / 5-8 A sudden change of dynamics and texture, similar to Variations I, II and V (Variation IV only changed the dynamic level). The RH’s bravura semiquavers are punctuated by thicker LH spread chords. The LH changes to quavers in the next two bars, which combine with the quickening of harmonic pace to bring the section to an emphatic close.
VI / 9-12 The RH in bars 9 and 10 is reminiscent of the equivalent passage in variation III. The textures used are similar to those in bars 1-8, but the pattern has been condensed into four bars instead of eight.
VI / 13-16 Modified repeat of bars 1-2 with acciaccaturas added to the offbeat RH quavers in bars 15-16
VI / 17-18 Another sudden change from p to f accompanies bustling semiquaver arpeggiations in both hands. In the second time bar, the perfect cadence does not conclude the music, with a rising A major scale propelling it into the coda.
VI-Coda / 19-20 The coda starts in a similar way to bars 9-10 of this variation, but rapidly moves on to new material which starts the approach to the end of the piece. On beat three of bar 20 the RH begins a decorated falling scalic motion from E (the dominant)
21-26 down to B, a phrase which is repeated from 22.3 with the turns played as semiquavers. This time the RH reaches the tonic A. The accompanying progression from 20.3-24 is I-IIb-Ic-VIIc-Ib-IIb-Ic-V-I. This perfect cadence is not emphatic enough to end the piece, so two powerful ones are added with block-chords in both hands.

Movement 2

Minuet and Trio

Structure: Minuet: A B A’ , Trio A1 B A2
Key: A major
Number of bars: 100

Bar What Happens Comment
1-2 Both hands play a declamatory opening motif based on the notes of an A major triad.
3-5 Answering phrase, contrasted in dynamic, which initially carries on the previous rising A major pattern before cadencing IIb-V7-I in E major (the dominant). Bar 5 returns the tonality swiftly back to A major with a descending scale in that key.
6-10 Quavers in the LH add a new sense of momentum, over which the RH plays pairs of appoggiaturas. Each pair is separated by a leap of a fifth. Bar 8 leaps up to a G-natural in the RH, but any trace of a key change here is quelled in the following two bars, which cadence with a V7-I progression in A major. The G-natural in bar 8 hints momentarily at a move to b minor, since that is the accompanying harmony.
11-18 The new phrase begins with a sudden ascent to a B in the RH over an E major (dominant) harmony. In the following bars, D-sharps appear consistently, indicating a firm modulation to the dominant (E major). The RH falls from its high B with a rapid E major scale, only to be catapulted up the arpeggio to repeat the same thing. The second time, the ascent is made using the same scale, which hurtles up to a top E before descending a tenth to close with a IIb-Ic-V7-I cadence in the new key. The initial E major harmony is ambiguous; is it a dominant chord, or has Mozart plunged us into the dominant key? The latter turns out to be the case, which gives the music a brighter feeling.
19-30 Starting on E (the new tonic) the RH rises to a G natural, before taking the music onto an F-sharp dominant-seventh harmony in the following bar. Between bar 20 and 26 the RH consists almost entirely of appoggiaturas.
Following a perfect cadence to b minor at the start of bar 23, the music slips into a minor (the tonic minor). The passage ends on a dominant chord of E major to prepare for the return of the opening material.
The new tonic of E has been changed to e minor, and this has in turn been reinterpreted as chord IV in b minor.
Successive appoggiaturas have been used in the RH in bars 6-8, a feature Mozart is obviously developing.
31-40 Basically a repeat of bars 1-10, with the last three bars modified. A passing modulation through D major occurs in bars 38-39 and the passage ends with an imperfect cadence in A major, in contrast to the perfect cadence in the original. Ending this passage with an imperfect cadence in the tonic key allows Mozart to avoid the subsequent movement to the dominant that occured in the first section of the movement, thus allowing him to balance the Minuet tonally.
41-48 A repeat of bars 11-18, played in the tonic. Small details are changed, such as the scalic run and addition of LH chords in bars 45-46.
49-64 The Trio opens in a new key (D major). After the first bar, short melodic ideas are presented and then immediately echoed in a higher texture. The second of these (bars 54-56.1) takes the music into the dominant (A major), where it remains until the end of the section (apart from a G natural in bar 64 which hints at the following leap into e minor). The flowing linear melody in the RH contrasts well with the striding, arpeggiated opening of the Minuet.
65-72 The music continues with a similar texture in bars 65-68.1, despite a change of key to e minor. The falling quavers at the top of the texture in these bars are then taken up in octaves by both hands to create a sudden contrast through a more declamatory style. The modulation to e minor is reinforced by octaves falling from the dominant (B) to the tonic (E). The beginning of the ‘B’ section.
72-84 The tonality is again destabilised by a gentle slip down a third into C major, which is established by repeated perfect cadences in bars 73-76. In bar 77 a B-flat LH starts a falling bass line that settles on A in bar 78 to start a dominant preparation. The importance of this move back towards the tonic key is emphasised by widening leaps in the RH between bars 73 and 78 (also, the time between the second pair of leaps is also half the first). An F-natural in bar 79 unexpectedly takes the music into the tonic minor (d), but of importance is the dominant chord of A major. This is highlighted notably in bar 81 by an Italian 6th chord in the LH (further emphasised by the false relation in the RH), and followed by imperfect cadences in d minor in bars 82-84. This middle section sees Mozart being more exploratory in terms of tonality, in contrast with the outer sections.
85-100 Although bar 85 is the same as bar 1, and the following textures are almost identical, there is little material replicated exactly from the initial ‘A’ section; Mozart prefers to use the same melodic shapes and ideas in slightly different tonal contexts. The most important difference is the lack of modulation to the dominant; instead, Mozart keeps to the tonic and thus tonally balances the Trio (compare with the same feature in the last section of the Minuet).
A repeated IV-V-I cadence ends the section (similar in quality to the repeated IIb-V-I cadence that closed the first section of the Trio).
Return to the ‘A’ section.

Movement 3

‘Alla Turca’

Structure: A B C B A B’ Coda (based on B)
Key: A major
No. of Bars: 127

Bar What Happens Comment
1-24 The opening theme consists of rising turn-figures which outline an a minor arpeggio. The use of ornamentation continues in bar 5 with grace notes helping to accent the first beat of the bar. A brief diversion to C major in bars 9-12 is short-lived, since it is followed by a return to the tonic. The repeat of the opening idea in bars 17-20 leads to a tonic cadence in a minor, following the reharmonisation of the top C in bar 20 with an Italian 6th chord. This opening section (A) is in itself a miniature ternary form.
A surprising number of keys are used at this early stage; a minor, e minor (bar 5) and C major (bar 9) before a return to a minor (bar13).
Bars 1-8 have a natural rhythmic accent on the first beat of the bar.
25-32 A sudden change to the tonic major starts a brash, loud passage which provides an immediate contrast to the preceding passage. The LH uses arpeggiated grace notes for percussive effect. See the background notes for the influence of Turkish music evident here.
32-56 Once again, a sudden contrast is created through a change of key (f-sharp minor), sudden reduction in dynamics, thinning of texture and bubbling semiquaver passages in the RH. The LH reverts to the texture found at the movement’s opening.
In bar 38 the key changes to c-sharp minor to bring the phrase to a close; however, the music then leaps into A major for some scalic RH features that carry on the stream of semiquavers.
The f-sharp minor passage returns in bars 48-56, although the second half of this is modified to keep the music in that key and closes with a perfect cadence.
This is the ‘C’ section of the structure. The RH melodic cells that open this section contrast well with the a minor theme at the beginning of the movement, since their general shape is an inversion of the turns in the a minor theme. They also start in a descending series, whereas the a minor theme consists of ascending motivic cells.
56-64 Repeat of bars 24.2-32.1 (the ‘B’ section)
64-88 Repeat of bars 1-24 (the ‘A’ section)
88-96 Repeat of the ‘B’ section again, but with the RH octaves broken into pairs of octave-leaping semiquavers. This RH change adds to the percussive, brash nature of the original.
96.2-127 The coda consists of four presentations of the same A major phrase (bars 96.2-102), with subtle changes, variations in ornamentation and, in bars 109-115, a different texture in the LH accompaniment (an Alberti bass). Other than this , the LH utilises the percussive figure from the previous A major theme. The chord progression in this repeated figure is a very strong I - IV - I - V (resolving onto the tonic to start the next version of the phrase).
The last six bars of the piece consist of an affirmation of the tonic A major harmony, bringing the work to a rousing and boisterous close.