Mozart: Variations KV 455, Sonata KV 281

(Booklet Text of CD "Portrait Erik Reischl, Volume 3")

"I have received reprieved your highly esteemed writing biting, and I have noted doted that my uncle garfuncle, my aunt slant, and you too, are all well mell. We, too, thank god, are in good fettle kettle. Today I got a letter setter from my Papa Haha safely into my paws claws."

These almost dadaistic sentences originate from the pen of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart from November 1777. They are extracts from the famous letters to his cousin, Maria Anna Thekla Mozart, known as "Bäsle". Mozart found in her a pendant with whom he could live out in full, the nonsensical, crazy and at times crudely obscene side of his nature. Repeatedly, even in his music we come across elements of boisterous frivolity, brazen jokes and childish humour.

Much of what is quite acceptable to our ears today, appeared rather astonishing and daring, or just cheeky and amusing over two centuries ago. In order to understand the subtle humour of classical music we should attempt to forget all subsequent developments and project ourselves into the period in which this music originated. If we manage to do so, then we will react in the same way as Mozart described following the two gentlemen:

"Mr. Stein did nothing but pull faces and express amazement. Mr. Demler had to laugh incessantly..."

The audience would very likely have laughed incessantly on the 23 March 1783 when, during a concert in the Vienna’s Castle Theatre, Mozart performed an improvisation. Because the composer Christoph Willibald Gluck was in the theatre, Mozart chose the Aria "Unser dummer Pöbel meint" from his opera "The Pilgrims from Mecca", as the starting point for a series of variations in which he pulled all the stops of his capabilities and humour. Although it was not until the following year on 25 July that a written version was produced, what has been handed down probably comes close to the improvised version.

The Sonata in B major, KV 281 was composed in Salzburg in 1774. The first movement begins lively and humourously, then becomes dramatic in the development section. Who it was, who infatuated the eighteen year old Mozart sufficiently for him to have added the attribute "amoroso" to the middle movement, remains unknown. Maybe it was just a joke, as the listener encounters a sudden thunder of the first note in the left hand, followed by a simple and tender theme.

Again, in the final movement we are confronted with the jovial Mozart. He pulls faces and has a great time playing tricks with the listener by presenting unexpected harmonic twists and turns. Finally he lets the last motif run aground in order to end with two loud and teasing semiquaver appoggiatura. To put it in the words of the composer to his "Bäsle":

"Odd! Why not?"

(Erik Reischl, Translation Elisabeth Ann Krüger)