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Mozart Minute: Mozart's Suitcase Sonatas

color image of a portrait of Mozart in which he wears a bright red coat
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Like many young adults seeking independence, the twenty-something Mozart searched high and low for a plum gig. His journey for a job took him all around Europe, and he effectively took a portfolio of his work with him, performing (from memory) a piano sonata here, a violin concerto there to get his work "out there."

Among the works Mozart took with him on the road were his first six piano sonatas (K. 279-284), which racked up as many miles and almost as much air time as their creator did.

 

  In 1777, Mozart resigned from his Salzburg court job. His search for greener pastures took him to Augsburg, his father's birthplace, where, in October and after much wrangling with rude upper-crust power brokers, Mozart performed one of his piano sonatas from his first set, the sonata No. 5 in G (K. 283). On Oct. 17, Mozart wrote his father, "Here and at Munich I have played all my six sonatas by heart several times" (The Letters of Mozart and His Family, trans. Emily Anderson).

Mozart left Augsburg for Mannheim, where on Nov. 4 he wrote his father that he had "played all six" of his sonatas at the home of Christian Cannabich, the leader of the Mannheim orchestra. Mozart might also have played some or all of these sonatas again in Mannheim in Jan. 1778 for the German composer and organist Georg Joseph Vogler.

After Mannheim, Mozart took his piano sonatas to Paris, where he declined at least two job offers. From Paris Mozart wrote his father on Sept. 11, 1778 that he hoped to sell his set of six piano sonatas to a publisher.

Mozart's first six piano sonatas disappear from the record until April 1784, when Leopold Mozart wrote Sebastian Winter, an employee of the Prince von Fürstenberg at Donaueschingen, offering to sell Mozart's first set of piano sonatas to the prince.

"I still have six sonatas for the piano only which no one knows about, as my son composed them for us alone. If His Highness … would care to have these too, he has only to let me know," Leopold wrote.

Composed "for us alone?" As those who heard the sonatas in Augsburg, Mannheim and Paris could attest –not so much. Eventually Mozart's first six piano sonatas were published. And having graced keyboards and concert halls around the world, they're seasoned travelers.

Jennifer Hambrick unites her extensive backgrounds in the arts and media and her deep roots in Columbus to bring inspiring music to central Ohio as Classical 101’s midday host. Jennifer performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Civic Orchestra of Chicago before earning a Ph.D. in musicology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.