About this work
It is remarkable that Mozart, who had made his reputation as a keyboard virtuoso, waited years to compose sonatas. He had written sets of variations, but nothing in the sonata style. This may be because his Salzburg patrons were not interested in solo keyboard compositions. The six sonatas of K. 279-84 were apparently written as a set for which Mozart deliberately chose "easy" keys, although he referred to the works as his "difficult" sonatas. Mozart worked his way around the circle of fifths, first toward the flat side, composing the sonatas in the order, C, F, B flat, E flat, then moving to the sharp side and writing those in G and D. He may have used one of his new sonatas in a keyboard contest between himself and Ignaz van Beecke (1733-1803), a contest in which Beecke was judged superior.
Five of the six piano sonatas, K. 279-283, were composed very early in 1775, while Mozart was in Munich; the Sonata in D major, K. 284, appeared shortly afterward. Each sonata is in three movements and each differs from the others in several ways. The grace and charm we find in some of the first movements, especially that of the C major sonata, are reminiscent of J. C. Bach's keyboard style. Mozart chose various contrasting keys for his middle movements and a wide range of expression throughout the set. Only the D major sonata was published during Mozart's lifetime.
In B flat major and the third of the set Mozart composed, the Piano Sonata (K. 281) opens with an Allegro in sonata form. Almost immediately after the restatement of the four-measure theme begins, Mozart moves away from the tonic toward the dominant, F major. An insistent repeated-note figure is the main feature of the secondary theme, which quickly gives way to a trilled closing motive. After a harmonically daring development section we hear one of Mozart's most predictable recapitulations, tracing the exposition in full and resolving everything to the tonic before closing without a coda.
Marked Andante amoroso, the slow movement is in sonata form with a brief development. A large leap at the beginning of the secondary theme contrasts with the descending scale that makes up the first theme. Trills and sudden dynamic contrasts inject intensity into an otherwise serene atmosphere that pervades the entire movement. As in the Allegro, the recapitulation follows exactly the path of the exposition, except for the modifications necessary to remain in the tonic, E flat major. The movement closes without a coda.
The concluding Rondeau (or rondo is infused with elements of sonata form. The first episode (section B) is on the dominant, F major, thus preparing the way for the first (and only partial) return of the rondo theme. In the manner of a recapitulation, this same episode returns nearly in full and resolved to the tonic just before the last statement of the rondo and the close of the movement.
Curated by Julian Sarmiento, Double bassist