Sinfonia Concertante for Violin and Viola K. 364 (320d)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Composed 1779

January 29-31, 2015
Jaime Martín, conductor
Kyu-Young Kim, violin
Maiya Papach, viola
1 Allegro maestoso 0:13:17 Add to Playlist Play Now  
2 Andante 0:11:02 Add to Playlist Play Now  
3 Presto 0:06:39 Add to Playlist Play Now  
  Entire Recording 0:30:58 Add to Playlist Play Now  
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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

The Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat Major represents a unique delight among Mozart’s oeuvre. Scored for solo violin and viola accompanied by modest orchestral forces, the work offers a cross between concerto and symphony, encased in the intimacy of chamber music. The medium for two or more soloists with orchestra had, by the late 1770s, become especially fashionable in Paris, where Mozart, frustrated in his provincial hometown of Salzburg, hoped to secure a position. While fulfilling his obligations at the Salzburg court to provide church music (with little effort and less enthusiasm), Mozart focused intensely on instrumental and secular vocal composition, producing an excellent catalogue of symphonies, concerti, arias, serenades, etc. Such works as the Sinfonia Concertante had little chance of being heard in Salzburg. (Nor was the imbalance of Mozart’s artistic energies lost on his boss, the Archbishop Colloredo. Their cooling relations culminated in Mozart’s final break with Salzburg in January 1781.)

The sheer sophistication and extroverted brilliance of the Sinfonia Concertante, composed between 1779 and 1780, betray Mozart’s gaze toward a more cosmopolitan musical environment. In its first stroke of inventiveness, Mozart (himself an avid violist) writes the solo viola part in D major, and calls for the instrument to be tuned a semitone high; the scordatura allows the violist greater resonance to match the violin’s bright tone. (Violists today employ and forgo the scordatura with equal frequency.)

The Allegro maestoso, bright and declamatory in character, immediately grabs the listener with its curtain-raising opening gesture, then proceeds with a characteristically Mozartian font of melodic invention. Mozart fashions a rich interplay between the soloists throughout, as well as between soloists and orchestra. The work closes with exuberance to match in the bubbling Presto finale.

But the work’s greatest riches reside in its second movement. “Mozart’s mature instrumental music represents our civilization’s sign for the beautiful,” writes biographer Maynard Solomon. “We cannot think of him without thinking of beauty; we cannot refer to beauty without recalling his music. … [H]e created… a special kind of musical beauty, one that thenceforth came to exemplify the idea of superlative beauty itself.” In support of this poetic claim, Solomon offers as evidence the Sinfonia Concertante’s C-minor Andante. The movement is remarkable for the expressive lyricism of the solo parts, both reluctant to cadence, instead constantly extending each line towards ecstatic heights. The supporting orchestral textures, warmed by divided violas, are equally inspired.

Patrick Castillo ©2014