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Franz Xaver Wolfgang MOZART (1791-1844)
Rondo in F [5:14]
Sonata in G, Op.10 [24:17]
Rondeau in F, Op.4 [4:58]
Polonaises mélancoliques, Op.22 [20:53]
Variations on a Russian Theme in G minor, Op.20 [8:36]
Katarzyna Drogosz (fortepiano)
rec. 2018, Great Hall of the Stiftung Mozarteum, Salzburg CD ACCORD ACD260-2 [64:12]
The evidence is so sketchy as to be hardly worthy of attention. But, possibly in an attempt to draw attention to their own work in a field of scholarship which is, not to put too fine a point on it, pretty well saturated, some recent researchers into the life of Mozart have suggested that his last surviving child, Franz Xaver Wolfgang, born less than five months before Mozart’s death, was actually the illegitimate love-child of Constanze and Mozart’s pupil (he of Requiem fame), Franz Xaver Süssmayr. That seemingly baseless rumour is repeated in the excellent booklet note by Ulrich Leisinger which comes with this attractively packaged CD. (Leisinger is Director of the Research Department at the International Mozarteum Foundation in Salzburg and a respected Mozart scholar in his own right, so has no need of such antics to get attention.) But Leisinger’s aim is not to spread scandal and rumour, but to try and distance Franz Xaver Mozart from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart so that, listening to this delightful recording, we can appreciate the composer’s work in context rather than always flavour our judgement with the aftertaste of a famous composer father. On top of this, Leisinger reminds us that the piano repertory between Beethoven and Chopin tends to be rather overlooked; although I think he rather over-eggs this particular pudding by implying that Field, Hummel and Czerny have all but fallen into oblivion, and that nobody “has ever heard, let alone played music by Ferdinand Ries”. (Naxos might have something to say about that, with their six volumes of Ries’s solo piano sonatas and sonatinas performed by Susan Kagan, and their disc of assorted other Ries piano pieces played by Michael Tsalka.) But the point is well made; F X Mozart is more than anybody famous’s son; he is noteworthy composer in his own right, providing an important bridge between the classical and romantic schools of piano music.
Hummel (who was widely recognised as the greatest pianist of the day), along with Salieri and Haydn, were among Franz Xaver’s teachers, and so it is only to be expected that any musical connections we may identify in the young Mozart’s work come from them rather than from his father. But, while it is difficult to identify a clear personality in these piano pieces, they are clearly the work of an individual mind, and not someone merely hanging on the coattails of a teacher or relative. Young Mozart, however, had neither the genius of his father or Haydn, nor the skill of Hummel of Salieri, and his biggest weakness seems to be in developing his own good ideas coherently; everything charms on first hearing, but quickly palls as the level of invention falters.
Perhaps the best example of this is the Op.20 Variations on a Russian Theme, written sometime between 1819 and 1821. The solemn theme is attractive, but even as the theme is being presented, the basic ornamentation of the repetition of each phrase hints as to a limited imagination, and as the piece moves on, one cannot help but think what Beethoven might have done with such thematic potential. Certainly, Beethoven would have found some way to free himself from the tyranny of the G tonality which seems to hold Mozart captive throughout the work.
Those who associate the piano Polonaise with Chopin, should take note that Franz Xaver Mozart composed no less than 12, published in three sets the first of which pre-dates Chopin’s first published example of the genre by a full year. Leisinger describes these as “arguably the best keyboard works of Franz Xaver Mozart”, and Katarzyna Drogosz here gives us the four from the last set. The first (in C minor and marked “Risoluto”) is a sturdy piece with some surprising key changes, including a central passage in the major key which reeks of Hummel. The second (A minor), third (F minor) and third (G minor) carry on much in the same vein, introducing little touches of contrapuntal writing, but largely stuck firmly to the opening thematic material. They seem to edge towards the salon style of Chopin, but any similarity ends there; never in a hundred years could you confuse this somewhat earth-bound music, seemingly frightened to move too far away from its home tonality, with the delicate flights of harmonic fancy in Chopin’s Polonaises.
While the two very early F major Rondos show some basic connection with the style of Haydn’s keyboard music, they both rather over-stretch the young Mozart’s pool of inspiration. The most extended work on the CD is the G major Sonata Op.10 of 1808, composed when he was just a boy of 16, his only work in this genre, and his most extended work for solo piano. There is a wealth of fine melodies here, and while they have none of the “singability” of his father’s melodic invention, one can see why Franz Xaver was a successful song writer. Leisinger describes each of the four movements of the Sonata as “a drama in miniature and a real musical gem”, and while that seems a fair assessment, sometimes the word “miniature” seems inappropriate, given the way Mozart draws his material out by means of repetitive devices rather than genuine development.
Whether or not the music itself is really of the highest order, these performances, by the Polish historic-keyboard specialist, Katarzyna Drogosz, on an 1800 fortepiano made by the Viennese builder Peter Anton Mooser, are confident and assertive, full of character and often imaginatively shaped to show the music off in the best light. Coupled with the excellent booklet notes and a clear recording, this is certainly an extremely interesting release.