Franz Xaver MOZART (1791-1844)
Fantasy on a Russian Song and a Krakowiak in A Major, FXWM VII:30 [14:26]
6 Polonaises mélancoliques, Op. 17 [22:14]
Piano Sonata in G Major, Op. 10 [18:18]
Anna Liszewska (piano)
rec. European Center Matecznik "Mazowsze", Otrębusy, Poland, 2017
DUX 1441 [55:24]
I first came to know the music of Franz Xaver Mozart in 2005 when Decca released a disc of his songs sung by Barbara Bonney (475 6936), a disc mistakenly included in Decca’s ‘Mozart Forever’ series, a celebration of his fathers 250th anniversary. I was quite taken with the songs presented on the disc, some of which had complex piano parts expertly played by Malcolm Martineau, I was therefore interested in hearing this disc.
Franz Xaver Wolfgang Mozart was the youngest of Wolfgang and Constanze’s two children that survived and was often referred to as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Jr, and was always known as Wolfgang by the family. He received music tuition from Salieri and Hummel and learned composition from Albrechtsberger and Neukomm. Like his father, he was an early starter and made his debut at the Theater an der Wien at the age of thirteen, going on to be a moderate success as a composer, musician and teacher. His musical style was based on the late classical style of his father and the early romantic style of his teacher Hummel. He seems to have written relatively few works, with his published opus numbers only amounting to thirty, although some opus’, such as the Polonaises featured on this disc, contain more than one item, with some having been collected over time.
On first listening, I don’t know why but I was not overly impressed with the music on this disc, I found it derivative and not very original, however, after listening to it a few more times I have come to enjoy it more. The Fantasy was probably composed around 1815 and was originally called a Fantasy on Russian and Polish Themes. The opening section is his take on a Russian song which remained popular until the early twentieth century, this is followed by a series of five variations on the tune before he introduces the Polish folk dance, the Krakowiak. The booklet notes talk of this piece as a tribute to the Polish and Russian communities where he had spent a great deal of his life and also to the piano music of his father.
The set of 6 Polonaises mélancoliques were the most popular pieces of Franz Xaver Mozart output during his lifetime, they were composed between 1812 and 1814 and dedicated to one of his pupils. Although composed before the Fantasy, I find that these six short pieces are more romantic in nature than the later piece and of greater interest and variety in the music, the short pieces depicting well the different stages of sadness or ‘mélancoliques’.
The Piano Sonata is the earliest work presented on this disc and dates from 1807, despite this it moves away from the classical structure of his father’s sonatas and embraces the more formal four movements structure of Beethoven’s middle period sonatas. This led to some adverse criticism from the Viennese music world who had expected him to follow his father and build upon his legacy. It is cast in the usual plan with a moderately fast opening movement, this is interesting for the way that Mozart develops the second theme, something he repeats often but in different keys. This is followed by a rather nice slow movement, which Anna Liszewska’s booklet notes tell us is “a personal utterance and is the least formal part of the composition.” For me it brings to mind the spirit of Beethoven, especially when he was in his more contemplative mood. The third movement is a playful minuet, with its dance like music leading into a trio section. The final movement opens with another dance like movement, this time in the form of a rondo that is “distinguished by elegance, charm and lightness of melodic style.”
The more I listen to this disc the more I enjoy it, this is in part due to the playing of Anna Liszewska, she has a lightness of style and action that is ideally suited to this music and Franz Xaver Wolfgang Mozart, who is certainly the beneficiary here, as she brings life to his music in the way she performs it. To me, she performs the music as if it is a bridge between the classical and romantic periods of music, and as such, this is a very fine performance indeed. Her informative booklet notes and the good recorded sound add to the enjoyment.