Mozart: the ultimate challenge

Having just posted a video on learning and teaching the B-flat Major Sonata, K570, I found myself thinking more about Mozart’s music: its challenges, and its rewards.

It took a long time before I became ‘comfortable’ learning and performing Mozart. Even as a fairly adept young professional, I steered away from programming Mozart in recitals; I knew I wasn’t doing the music justice — especially the slow movements. I’m more confident now (after playing Mozart for half a century!) but I still feel that Mozart starts out easy, gets harder the more I work on it, and then — if I‘m lucky — starts to sound and feel gracious, graceful, and easy again.

I still find Mozart challenging to teach. There are a plethora of details to absorb (voicing, pedalling, ornamentation, phrasing, pacing, articulation…) yet playing Mozart well involves transcending those challenges, so none of them actually draws our listeners’ attention. I think that, though the details can be taught, putting them together into a convincing whole is a real test of a student’s musicality.

That sense of the ease and inevitability in Mozart’s music is eloquently discussed in a new biography I’m reading. Mozart: the reign of love, by Jan Swafford, is a thorough and entertaining look at Wolfgang’s life, loves, and music. I recommend it. And when you get to page 420, feel free to listen to this. It’s my live recording of the slow movement from the C Major Sonata, K330. Some of my favourite music.

Sonata in C Major, K330, second movement: Andante cantabile, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Jamie Syer, piano. Live performance at the Victoria Conservatory of Music’s Alix Goolden Performance Hall, Victoria, British Columbia.