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By the 1780s Mozart had toured all Europe and had been hailed as a genius from an early age. Despite this, the period leading up to his move to Vienna in 1781 was in many ways an unhappy one: now that he was in his twenties the label of child prodigy (and the stardom that came with it) was no longer, and he failed to procure a suitable court post. Thus, in 1778, the opportunity to return to work for Archbishop Colloredo in Salzburg was one that could not be rejected, even though his previous employment there had been far from satisfactory. Once again Mozart became half-hearted about his duties: his employer required more religious works for the cathedral, whereas Mozart’s interests seem to have been more concerned with instrumental and secular music. The final straw came in 1781 when Mozart returned from Munich following a successful production of the opera Idomeneo. Back in Salzburg he was once again treated like a servant and shortly afterwards secured his release from these duties, spurred on by the thought that he could probably make a freelance living in Vienna.

There are differing views as to exactly when the A major sonata (K331) was composed, with most scholars suggesting 1781 as the correct year (although whether or not it was written before or after his move to Vienna is also unclear). However, in the sleeve notes to Marta Deyanova’s recording (Nimbus NI1775), David Threasher states that paper studies have challenged this view and that the correct date of composition is somewhere around the late summer months of 1783.

K331 is the second in a set of three sonatas (K330-332) and has several interesting features that can be noted. First is his use of a theme and variation design for the first movement: Mozart typically used a sonata-form Allegro for the first movement in most of his piano sonatas and, while variations do occur in other sonatas (e.g. K284), they are not used to open the work. He was admired widely for his sets of variations and further evidence of his aptitude for composing in this genre can be gathered from the widespread contemporary accounts of his improvisations during concerts.

Second, the use of the title ‘alla Turca’ for the last movement is not quite the obscure exoticism it first appears; during the second half of the eighteenth century there was a vogue across Europe (and especially in Vienna) for the incorporation of things Turkish into art music. Primarily this involved the use of much percussion and cymbals, although the term ‘alla Turca’ usually refers more specifically to music for military band with Turkish percussion instruments or, more generally, music that copies the effect of Turkish band music, a feature of which many composers made use, including Haydn (in various operas and symphonies – e.g. symphony no.100), Gluck and Michael Haydn. Mozart’s use of the style is not confined to this piano sonata alone, since it can be found in the violin concerto K219 and, most notably, in the singspiel Die Entführung aus dem Serail. Other than using percussion instruments, the style is typically very noisy, rhythmic and usually in duple time, features which are immediately recognisable in the finale of K431, where, for example, the use of loudly-spread left hand chords in the A major passages is clearly meant to produce a percussive effect. Incidentally, the popularity of the style was such that from the turn of the nineteenth century many fortepianos were built with percussion instruments attached which could be played by using an added ‘Turkish music’ stop or pedal.

Apart from its foreign influences, the last movement has two other interesting features. The first of these concerns its structure; the movement is a rondo but, unusually, the first theme occurs only twice (traditionally, in rondo form the first theme is presented most frequently in the piece). Therefore, the A major idea from bar 25 becomes the more important as the movement progresses, occurring three times and forming the basis of the coda. Also, Mozart extensively repeats melodic ideas within sections. For example, in bars 8-16 the same melodic idea occurs four times (the second two times transposed down a minor third), and the A major passage at bars 25-32 consists of a repeated motif, with the ending modified on the repeat to allow a perfect cadence to close the phrase. This is a recurrent feature, especially in the coda.

It is worth noting that each movement of the sonata is based around the tonality of A. This is unusual as there is typically a change of key for the second movement to provide a necessary tonal contrast. One can only presume that Mozart considered the huge diversity of material presented in the piece to be sufficient to dispense with this need.

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