Piano Sonata No.4

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Piano Sonata No.4 in Eb major

K189g, K282

About this work

While Mozart was in Munich, in early 1775, he composed five piano sonatas, K. 279-83; the Sonata in D major, K. 284, appeared shortly afterward. Mozart and his father had traveled to Munich in early December 1774 to oversee the premiere of Mozart's new opera buffa, La finta giardiniera (The Imaginary Gardener), commissioned by the Munich court. The opera received its first performance on January 13, 1775, two weeks before Mozart's nineteenth birthday.

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 key order C, F, B flat, E flat, and then moving to the sharp side and writing pieces 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.

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.

The fourth of the Munich sonatas, in E flat major, K. 282, is remarkable in that it begins with a slow movement. Opening with an arched, cantabile theme, the Adagio maintains a distinct division between the melody in the right hand and accompaniment in the left. In sonata form with a tiny development, the movement skips the first theme in the recapitulation, beginning immediately with the resolution of the secondary material to the tonic.

Two Minuets, each lacking a Trio, follow the Adagio. The first is in the dominant, B flat major, and features a main theme that begins conspicuously like that of the Adagio. After the contrasting material, Mozart rounds off the second half of the Minuet with a return to the first theme in varied form. The second Minuet, in E flat major, contains a lengthy, quasi-developmental extension of the main theme with numerous, wide dynamic contrasts and a modulation to the dominant. Beginning with motivically-conceived contrasting material, the second half closes with a full statement of the main theme, modified to remain in the tonic.

An octave leap at the beginning of the Allegro finale becomes a salient feature of the entire movement: the most prominent motive of the transition outlines an octave, and the secondary theme begins with chords that encompass a full octave. Octave leaps open the short development section and scales in both the close of the exposition and recapitulation rise through entire octaves. The formal aspects of the movement are predictable and its sections are succinct and well rounded, requiring no coda to provide a convincing close.

Done