Mozart’s Sonata in A Minor was written in a tonality which is extremely rare for the composer and which Haydn completely avoided, considering it the tonality of death.
The sonata was composed in the summer of 1778 in Paris, and in 1782 it was published there as “Op. 4, No 3”. Mozart’s journey to France proved to be a tragic one. On 3 July the composer’s mother died in his arms. To crown it all he experienced a series of professional failures. His hopes of finding permanent work in a Catholic country (for the Catholic Mozart this was important) were in vain. The French commissioned him to write music and they performed it, but they did not pay for these commissions. Moreover, Mozart was not enamoured with French music. Unsurprisingly, the Sonata in A Minor was one of the works he wrote in Paris.
The first movement, Allegro maestoso, is in a style of high pathos, which is underlined by the use of polyphony as it develops. The rondo finale is instilled with confusion. But in the second movement, Andante cantabile, Mozart turns to the music of a composer whom he had loved from his childhood and quotes a theme from Johann Schobert’s Sonata Op. 17, No 1 а. Schobert had died in 1767, but Mozart remembered him even in 1778 in Paris and made his pupils study his sonatas.
Although Liszt’s Sonata in B Minor is dedicated to Robert Schumann, its closest musical “relative” would be Wagner’s musical dramas and Liszt’s own symphonic poems. Hearing the sonata for the first time, Wagner was ecstatic, and there was indeed much to rejoice at. Piano works on such a scale had not been written since Beethoven’s time. Moreover, Liszt’s grandiose sonata is in one section; without interruption it lasts over half an hour and the piano sounds at times like the orchestra and at times like the organ.
Liszt did not give the sonata a programme title, but there is no doubt that it does not belong to the world of “pure music.” The uninterrupted development of the three themes that are subjected to various metamorphoses, even transforming into the reverse of what they began as, bears witness to the facts that there is a “plot” and that there are “characters” in the sonata. Most of all, Liszt was interested in two great subjects – The Divine Comedy and Faust, which formed the basis of two of his symphonies. Regarding the two sonatas, the second bears the title Fragment after Dante.
Liszt completed this Sonata in B Minor in February 1853, but the public at large heard it only in 1857 when it was performed by Hans von Bülow. In the 19th century this work was rarely performed and only came to be appreciated in the 20th century.