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Sunday, March 12, 3:00 pm
Purchase Performing Arts Center

Jeremy Denk, soloist-leader



Melanie Feld, oboe 

Ben Baron, clarinet 

Harry Searing, basson

Lawrence DiBello, horn 

(click the artists’ names above to read their bios)


Sonata No. 8 in A Minor, K. 310

I. Allegro maestoso 

II. Andante cantabile con espressione 

III. Presto 

Quintet in E-Flat for piano and winds, K. 452
I. Largo - Allegro moderato 

II. Larghetto 
III. Allegretto 


Piano Concerto No. 20 in D Minor, K. 466

I. Allegro 

II. Romance

III. Allegro assai 

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The Westchester Philharmonic’s programs are made possible, in part, by support from the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Kathy Hochul and the New York State Legislature.

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The Westchester Philharmonic’s programs are made possible, in part, by ArtsWestchester with support from County Executive George Latimer and the Westchester County government.


By Laurie Shulman

Sonata No. 8 in A Minor, K. 310 

Wolfgang Amadè Mozart 

Born 27 February, 1756 in Salzburg, Austria

Died 5 December, 1791 in Vienna


  • This is one of only two Mozart piano sonatas in a minor key 

  • Scholars believe that Mozart wrote it while grieving after is mother's unexpected death 

  • Brilliant passage work in both hands peppers the first movement 

  • A raging middle section disturbs the slow movement's calm 

  • The finale is a nervous take on galant style 


Job-hunting in the 1770s

In September, 1777, Leopold Mozart packed off his wife and son to Munich, Mannheim, and Paris. The purpose of the journey was for 21-year-old Wolfgang to secure a permanent position as Kapellmeister or music director to a music-loving nobleman. He was received courteously by the Elector in Munich, then informed that there were no openings at present. Mother and son continued via Augsburg and Hohenaltheim, visiting family members and friends. In late October they arrived in Mannheim, another major music center with an excellent court orchestra. Their visit was pleasant and stimulating, but by March 1778, Mannheim’s Elector Carl Theodor had made it clear that no employment offer was forthcoming.

Family tragedy

Angry at Wolfgang’s failure to achieve the stated goal of the journey, Leopold ordered his son to proceed to Paris. Mother and son arrived there on 23 March, 1778. Wolfgang did not care for the city and had little respect for French taste in music. Although he attempted to exploit German and Austrian contacts in Paris, his scorn for Gallic culture worked against him. Then, in late June his mother contracted a fever. She worsened rapidly, and died on 3 July. The extended trip thus proved personally tragic as well as professionally disastrous. Mozart remained in Paris until the end of the summer, when Leopold summoned him back to Salzburg, a city Wolfgang had come to regard as hopelessly provincial.

We do not know the exact dates when Mozart composed the A Minor Sonata, only that he wrote it in Paris, sometime between 23 March and 20 July, 1778; however, it is widely believed to be an expression of his grief at his mother’s passing.

The A Minor sonata in context

Pianists and scholars agree that Mozart’s finest keyboard writing is in his mature piano concerti. Among his chamber works with keyboard, the two piano quartets are wonderful works, as are the quintet with winds in E-flat, K.452 (heard later on this program) and Kegelstatt Trio K.498 for clarinet, viola, and piano. The piano trios of Mozart are pleasant but not at so high a level of inspiration, mastery, and virtuosity. The solo sonatas are even more workmanlike: avenues for exploration as he developed and refined his keyboard technique in a world where keyboards were constantly evolving. By and large, Mozart’s piano sonatas were conceived as teaching vehicles for students with aptitude, but not necessarily prodigious gifts.

Not so the A Minor Sonata. It is unique among Mozart’s works: his only major instrumental composition in A Minor. And it is rare among the piano sonatas – only one other, the C Minor Sonata, K. 457 – is in minor mode; all the rest are in major keys. (Mozart also composed a Fantasia in C minor, an Adagio in B Minor, and an Adagio in A Minor, all for solo fortepiano; however, minor mode remains unusual in his output, and always noteworthy.)

About the music

What makes K.310 exceptional is its intensity of expression. The emotional range outstrips anything in the earlier sonatas. Nothing of the entertaining salon piece is present in this sonata. In the opening Allegro maestoso, relentless chords in the left hand hammer away beneath angry dotted rhythms in the right hand theme. The second subject introduces elaborate scale work in both hands that is quite dazzling, approaching the virtuosity of concerto figuration.

The slow movement is one of Mozart’s youthful masterpieces. He organizes his Andante cantabile con espressione as another sonata form. Though it opens tranquilly with a poetic theme in F Major, the development section rapidly escalates to turmoil and agitation. This is as tragic as Mozart gets, and the return to F Major in the recapitulation hardly eradicates the impact of the storm we have weathered.

He concludes the sonata with a restless Presto in galant style. Uneasy and shadowy, this music leaves us a little breathless with its urgency. Only a brief Musette in major mode relieves the tension, and that episode does not last long. The forward momentum is inexorable, and Mozart’s bleak mood persists to the closing measures.

Quintet in E-flat major for piano and winds, K. 452


  • Mozart loved wind instruments - but not so much the flute

  • This quintet features the other four winds: oboe, clarinet, horn, and bassoon 

  • Mozart himself considered this the finest work he had composed to that point 

  • A miracle of balance, proportion, and good humor, all three movements delight 

  • Listen for animated conversation between keyboard and winds 

In April 1784, at the height of his popularity in Vienna and desperately in need of a 36-hour day to fulfill all his commitments, Wolfgang Mozart wrote to his father Leopold in Salzburg, apologizing for the gap since his last letter. He took the opportunity to outline his dizzying schedule.



Mozart’s pride in the new quintet was thoroughly justified. It stands up creditably to the four fine keyboard concertos from that remarkable spring: No.14 in E-flat, K.449; No.15 in B-flat, K.450; No.16 in D, K.451; and No.17 in G, K.453). The piano’s concerto-like figuration in the Quintet has clear connections to those larger-scale compositions.


Mozart entered the Quintet in his catalogue of new works on 30 March 1784, but he almost certainly finished it a couple of weeks earlier, because it was originally scheduled be played at his benefit concert on 21 March. The concert was postponed because of a conflict with an opera the same evening. It was rescheduled for 1 April 1784 at Vienna’s Burgtheater (the ‘concert in the theatre’ mentioned in the letter quoted above). Mozart was at the piano not only for the Quintet, but also for the Concertos K.450 and K.451, and an improvisation. We know that the orchestra played a symphony as well; it could have been the Linz, K.425.


While Mozart found the timbre of the flute unappealing, the sound of the other woodwind instruments entranced him. The real treasure of this Quintet is Mozart’s miraculous writing for winds. By combining oboe, clarinet, horn, and bassoon with piano, he assembled a chamber ensemble with an unusually wide variety of tone color. Attentive listening reveals an engineer’s precision, as melodic material transfers seamlessly from one player to the next.


Mozart did not overestimate the caliber of this work. Thirteen years later, young Ludwig van Beethoven was so taken with Mozart’s Quintet that he began composing a piece with identical instrumentation. Beethoven’s Quintet, Op.16 is clearly modeled after Mozart’s piece. The resemblance goes beyond the shared tonality of E-flat major. Both works feature a slow introduction preceding a sonata-allegro first movement, and a concluding rondo. In phrase lengths and modulatory patterns, some passages in the Beethoven are almost mathematical clones of the Mozart.


Mozart’s is unquestionably the greater work. Its genius lies in Mozart’s balance between piano and winds. He withholds the piano during numerous brief passages where the four winds play in chords. While the piano frequently takes the limelight, as often as not it accompanies or supports one or more of the winds. The songful slow movement has rich chromatic dialogue; and cadenza-like passages complement the opera buffa atmosphere of the finale.

Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, K. 466 


  • Brooding and chromatic, this concerto is a far cry from conventional Mozart 

  • Listen for stormy outbursts, even in the slow movement 

  • Mozart provided his Viennese audience with a sunny conclusion - but not until the end of the finale! 

The piano concerto occupied Mozart throughout his brief, productive career. He composed twenty-seven, of which only two are in minor keys. That statistic alone would alert us that there is something different about the two concerti in minor mode, K.466 in D minor and K.491 in C minor. The D minor work was composed first, and was completely unlike any concerto (or symphony, for that matter) that Mozart had written before. That the work still communicates its electricity and drama to us for all its familiarity is one measure of its genius.


Between 1782 and 1786 Mozart wrote fifteen piano concerti. Obviously this was an immensely fertile period for him; it coincided with his greatest financial and social success among the Viennese aristocracy. Most of the concerti were written for his own use, that is, Mozart performed them himself, conducting from the keyboard. The piano concerti from these years are of the highest possible quality. Mozart had reached the creative peak of full maturity, and his keyboard technique was formidable. The D minor concerto is one of three that date from 1785. The autograph score is dated 11 February 1785, and we know that Mozart played the piece on a Lenten season subscription concert that month.


A surprise for Vienna’s conservative audience

One wonders what his Viennese audience must have thought of this explosive, agitated, restless music. Certainly the piano part was exceptionally difficult, more so than any of its predecessors. But that first audience would not likely have noticed the demanding keyboard runs. More likely they were taken aback by the ominous, stormy character of the music and the peculiar relationship between the orchestra and the soloist.

This concerto breaks in many ways from everything Mozart had written previously. For starters, there is no singable melody at the outset. The orchestral exposition is built on syncopations (rhythmic uncertainty) and moves rapidly to passages of chromatic tension (harmonic uncertainty). When the soloist enters, it is with an entirely new theme that has not yet been stated by the orchestra. That entrance establishes a pattern for this concerto that is different from its predecessors: the pianist has a great deal of musical material to itself, not shared by the orchestra. That is not to say the orchestra is slighted. To the contrary, Mozart's orchestral writing in the concerto is thoroughly symphonic, requiring a level of orchestral virtuosity as demanding as any of the late symphonies. His genius lies in the way he has integrated the soloist with the orchestra, sustaining the nervous energy level for maximum emotional impact.

The D minor concerto was Mozart's best known instrumental work in the nineteenth century, and is usually heralded as Mozart's prescient realization of the romantic movement in music. The work held particular appeal for Beethoven, who wrote a cadenza for the first movement that many pianists favor. (No cadenza by Mozart survives for this concerto.)

The slow movement is a large A-B-A structure whose outer sections are an operatic cantilena of sorts for the piano. A raging G minor middle section jolts the equilibrium of the otherwise tranquil Romanze, reminding us that the darkness of the first movement has not been eradicated.

Mozart's finale returns to D minor with energy and passion. This Allegro assai is more concerto-like and less symphonic than the first movement, opening with a ‘Mannheim rocket’ (a sharply ascending arpeggio figure) from the soloist that establishes an electric energy level. A measured march-like theme eventually supersedes the rocket. Possibly as a concession to his conservative Viennese audience, Mozart closes with a transformation of the march theme in D major, ending the concerto with a brilliant flourish.

The concerto is scored for flute, two oboes, bassoon, two horns, two trumpets, timpani, solo piano and strings.


Program Notes by Laurie Shulman ©2022

First North American Serial Rights Only






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Sonata No. 8 in A Mior, K.310
Quintet in E-Flat
Piano Concerto No.20

Please don’t be vexed! . . . Surely you realize how much I have to do in the meantime. I have done myself great credit through my three subscription academy concerts, and the concert I gave in the theatre was most successful. I composed two grand concertos and then a quintet, which called forth the very greatest applause: I myself consider it to be the best work I have ever composed. It is written for one oboe, one clarinet, one horn, one bassoon, and the pianoforte. How I wish you could have heard it! And how beautifullyit was performed!

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