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Munich 1774: Mozart writes his first famous Series of Piano Sonatas...
... In Reality, Mozart's First Piano Sonatas Went Lost
You can still find some article or some booklet, which will let you think that Mozart's Piano Sonata No. 1 K279 (1774 or 1777) was, strangely enough, actually Mozart's first Piano Sonata ever written in his life.
      But this is a misleading statement. 
      We know that Mozart's sister was still the owner of a series of 3 Piano Sonatas (letter 8 February 1800 to Leipzig publisher Breitkopf), which must have been composed by Mozart in the years between 1768 and 1775 (but according to others written ca. 1766). Such early Sonatas were sent to Breitkopf by Nannerl herself, however Breitkopf, for unknown reasons, never published them and the original scores, in possession of Breitkopf, probably have been lost forever, as it happened to many 18th century original manuscript scores which were in the archives of Breitkopf. In any case, thanks to Breitkopf's in-house incipits catalogue, we still have the incipits of these three Sonatas.
      It is also possible that these first early piano sonatas, according to some evidence from the letters by the Mozarts, were not particularly demanding.
      In fact they are probably those sonatas called by Leopold even infantile sonatas in a letter to Breitkopf in 1781, in order to better publicize, instead, the latest more mature works written by his son Mozart in 1770s & 1780s. Therefore such early 3 piano sonatas were probably, for the Mozarts, the easy sonatas, radically different from what the Mozarts called the difficult sonatas, i.e. the Piano Sonatas K279-284. Nonetheless, it seems that Nannerl used to regularly play these 3 early easy sonatas in concerts during the period 1766-1775 and this make us think that, despite easy, technically speaking, they must have had that peculiar charm and those interesting characteristics which made them suitable for successful public performances still in 1774 and in 1775 in Munich.
      These first three piano sonatas are now known as:
1. K33d/Anh199 in D, 1st Mov. Allegro
2. K33e/Anh200 in Bb, 1st Mov. Molto Allegro 
3. K33f/Anh201 in C, 1st Mov. Allegro
      According to Mozart scholar John Irving, there's also some possibility that such early Piano Sonatas were actually often performed either with a violin obbligato or even as a piano trio with a violin and a cello. About the technical development of the form, John Irving consider the possibility of a binary development structure, thanks to the comparison with other works by Mozart and by Mozart contemporaries from this early period.

Beside these early 3 Piano Sonatas, we have also another incipit from Breitkopf's catalogues, which may belong to Mozart piano solo production: the Piano Sonata K33g/Anh202 in F, 1st Mov. Andante Amoroso. 
      According to a note in the Breitkopf's Manuscript Catalogue, the manuscript (now lost, like the other 3 from Nannerl) was received from that Baron Thaddäus von Dürnitz, who, in Munich, at the beginning of 1775 may have asked Mozart to write the Series of the 6 Piano Sonatas K279-284. The dating of this early Piano Sonata K33g is even more disputed. Some scholars think it belongs to ca. 1766, like the other 3 ones, other scholars think they must belong to 1774-75: the fact that the manuscript was in possession of von Dürnitz may lead to think that Mozart offered this manuscript to von Dürnitz to give him an idea of what he could write if asked to... Nonetheless, as Cliff Eisen points out, at this moment and without the complete manuscript score now lost, it's very difficult to clearly demonstrate that this Piano Sonata received from von Dürnitz was actually a real work by Mozart... Nonetheless, as John Irving pointed out, the beginning with an Andante Amoroso, at least, may well put this work near other works by Mozart from the early years, like K11, K12, K15, K30.
The Incipits of the lost early Piano Sonatas by Mozart.
From J. Irving, Mozart's Piano Sonatas: Contexts, Sources, Style

The 4 Different Sets of the 18 Piano Sonatas by Mozart
Generally speaking, the 18 Piano Sonatas by Mozart can be divided into 4 main groups:
1-Munich Set [1774-1775] (6 Sonatas from K279 to K284);
2-Mannheim-Paris Set [1777-1778] (Sonatas Nos. 7-8-9  from K309 to 311);
3-1st Vienna Set [1782-1783] (Sonatas Nos. 10-11-12-13 from K330 to K333);
4-2nd Vienna Set [1784-1789] (Sonatas Nos. 14-15-16-17-18, i.e. K457, 
                                               K533/494, K545, K570, K576)
The real chronology of Mozart's Piano Sonatas is far from being completely clear.
      Almost all the Piano Sonatas present serious problems and difficulties in the determination of the exact dates and places of composition.
      In particular, the 3rd group (the 1st Vienna Set), now mainly and substantially attributed, in any case, to Mozart's first Vienna period (1782-1783), has been object of various speculations, which positioned their place of production rather to the Paris period 1778, then to the Salzburg period 1779 and in the end to the first Vienna period, but during the summer 1783, when Mozart was on a Salzburg/Linz Journey with his new wife Constanze in order to pay a visit to his father Leopold.
      Also the 1st group, Munich Set 1774-1775, presents a series of problems in determining the exact place & date of composition, as we'll see.

A Not Paid Commission from Baron von Dürnitz 1774?
According to Abert, the first set of 6 Piano Sonatas (Munich Set 1774-1775: K279-284) was the result of a commission to Mozart from Baron Thaddäus von Dürnitz, who attended various very impressive public performances of Mozart himself in Munich during winter 1774-1775 and probably also a fortepiano duel between Mozart and Ignaz von Beecke, a duel which must have had a sight-read section very difficult and demanding for both the musicians.
      Probably Baron von Dürnitz received the mysterious Piano Sonata manuscript K33f/Anh201 in this period in Munich.
      The last Sonata of the set, K284, was actually dedicated to the Baron and was usually called the Dürnitz sonata. Nonetheless, as far as we know, Baron von Dürnitz never paid for Mozart's set of 6 Sonatas nor for the single K284 Sonata...
      ... Moreover, we know from Mozarts' letters winter 1777, that in winter 1777 the whole set of 6 Piano Sonatas was (without doubt!) ready and available and that the Baron had already failed to pay and that Mozart, during his Mannheim-Paris journey, had to reach also Munich to try to have at least the last K284 Dürnitz Sonata paid... 

Problems of Dating: Mannheim 1777 or Munich 1775?
As you can see, the K numbers of the Sonatas belong rather to the years 1777-1778, because at the beginning this set of 6 Sonatas was thought to belong to the months before Mozart's stay in Paris.
      Then more accurate studies helped the scholars to re-position this set of 6 K279-284 to the year 1774, since scholars thought that Mozart had composed such works as a sort of presentation for Munich, where he had to present his new opera La finta giardiniera: so the 6 sonatas would have been composed in various months in Salzburg before the winter 1774-1775 and the Mozarts' stay in Munich.
      A better reading and analysis of the chronological sequence of the letters by the Mozarts and further modern studies position now the Set of 6 Piano Sonatas K279-284 in Munich to the first months of 1775 in a period from January to March 1775. Nonetheless, there is still some speculation by a few scholars about the possibility that Mozart completed at least a couple of them, in reality, just some time before August 1777, when Mozart was preparing his long Mannheim-Paris tour.
      This is an important fact, because, if the motive for composing the 6 Sonatas was the 1775 cultural environment of Munich and probably also the fortepiano duel with von Beecke, we know, instead, for sure that Mozart widely publicized this set of 6 Sonatas K279-284 exactly during his stay in Mannheim, Augsburg and Paris 1777-1778 with continuous concerts and performances. And curiously also Leopold writes a lot about these difficult sonatas in his letters 1777-1778.

In conclusion, it seems that

A) Mozart composed this set of 6 Sonatas K279-284 (January-March 1775)somehow to support his opera La finta giardiniera performance in Munich in 1775, by giving a great sample of his many abilities as major composer;

B) Some motive to do this was offered in January 1775 both by the fortepiano duel with von Beecke and by some interest by Baron von Dürnitz in this type of music production;

C) However, in the end, the Munich set of Sonatas K279-284 received, instead, wide public recognition and applause only during Mozart's Mannheim-Paris Tour 1777-1778, that's to say ca. 2 years later their very composition in 1775.
January 1775: Mozart Works in Munich Whilst Preparing the Premiere of his Opera La Finta Giardiniera
Despite the fact that the indications about Mozart's piano sonatas production are really doubtful and scarce in the group of letters from Munich winter 1774-1775, on the other hand, such letters provide many really interesting details about the public musical activities of the Mozarts in Munich in that period. Therefore they provide an incredible and magnificent context to the preparation of the premiere of Mozart's opera La Finta Giardiniera and to its following performances.

And so, while Mozart was preparing the premiere of his opera and the other performances, he spent the rest of his time, by giving concerts of any kind presenting his other works and by composing new difficult works... for keyboard.

For Which Instrument Written?... A Special Piano Duel & an Excellent Fortepiano 
Another serious problem about Mozart's Piano Sonatas was the identification of the real instrument, Mozart had in mind when composed his works: harpsichord, fortepiano or... keyboard in general?

De facto, the real answer for almost all the works produced in this period (1770s) will be for keyboard in general...

Nonetheless, in the very case of Mozart's Piano Sonatas K279 and K284 (composed, according to the most recent studies, in Munich in the winter 1774-1775) probably we can say that Mozart in 1775 may have had a particular instrument in mind and, that's to say, a fortepiano of excellent quality.

In fact, the fortepiano duel with von Beecke took place in Munich in Kaufinger-Strasse at the house of Franz Albert, who had there an excellent fortepiano. And, as far as we know, this duel received a certain publicity and probably von Dürnitz himself was there, the man who was going to ask Mozart to write the new set of 6 Sonatas K279-284.

Moreover, we know that the Mozarts, afterwards, became personal friends with Franz Albert, the owner of this excellent fortepiano

Mozart: Sonatas Nos. 1-2 (K279-K280: Munich Series) & Haydn as a music model?
For a long time, there has been some speculation about the possibility that Mozart wrote this first difficult (difficult seen in comparison with Mozart's previous works and various works by his own contemporaries and also due to the very character of the musical interpretation) set of Piano sonatas under the influence of Haydn's own set of 6 Sonatas 1773-1774 (i.e. Hob. XVI: 21-6).
      Nonetheless, Mozart scholar John Irving has already long demonstrated how the possibility of a direct influence of Haydn's Set of Sonatas XVI: 21-6 on Mozart's can't be so easily accepted, especially on a chronological basis: in fact, Mozart certainly saw the official printed version of Haydn's Set only after he had already composed his own Set K279-284; as far as we know, J. Haydn's scores are not in Salzburg libraries; J. Haydn's works in general are practically never cited (it seems only once)  in the letters by the Mozarts until 1780s... hence, the possibility of a direct influence of Haydn on Mozart is really rather scarce.
      According to John Irving, there is still a possibility for Mozart to have seen that Set of Sonatas by Haydn: in 1773 in Vienna Mozart saw the authorized manuscript score (not printed version so!) or attended some event where he heard some pieces by Haydn performed... In any case, Mozart could not have seen the full printed version of this set of works by Haydn!
      However, as John Irving clearly pointed out and then accurately demonstrated, if Mozart had ever received some kind of hint from Haydn's works for keyboard, the whole treatment developed by Mozart on his Piano Sonatas is entirely Mozartian in character and features certain technical details which are exclusively typical of Mozart's own art conception. An example for all is Mozart's and Haydn's different vision of the overall structure of the Sonata as a music genre: Mozart has almost always a clear vision of a 3 movement structure (fast - slow - fast), where the Minuets have not a particular role to play; instead, Haydn has a more flexible vision of his Sonata, with works in 2 movements, with a varied organization of the movements themselves and, last but not least, the necessity of the presence of the Minuet form within the structure of the Sonata.
      Also the famous dispute started by Einstein, in particular, about the 2nd movement siciliana of Mozart's K280 as a direct quotation from Haydn's piano sonata Hob. XVI: 23 2nd movement is treated by Irving in details. But also in this case, and even if here Mozart's Piano Sonata No. 2 K280 seems apparently particularly linked to Haydn's one (Hob. XVI: 23; but we don't know how, where and when this may have ever happened!), Irving clearly demonstrates how Mozart's treatment, even in presence of apparent similarities in the thematic material, is radically different from Haydn's one, so that we'd better talk about a substantial strong reworking by Mozart of a couple of ideas from Haydn or even better of a whole radical reinterpretation by Mozart on few ideas from Haydn...
      Moreover, Irving remembers that certain procedures used by Haydn in his Piano Sonatas, in reality, are not typical of Haydn alone but rather had already been developed and common in the Sonatas Op. 5 by J.C. Bach since 1760s. And how important J.C. Bach was as a music model, as a friend and as a mentor to Mozart is well known.

                                           END OF PART 1
                                        TO BE CONTINUED
Mozart, Piano Sonatas No. 1 (K279) & No. 2 (K280):

Mozart - Piano Sonata No. 1 K279 (
Mozart - Piano Sonata No. 2 K280 (

Kristian Bezuidenhout, Fortepiano
Mozart - Piano Sonatas No. 1 K279 & No. 2 K280
S. & L.M. Jennarelli