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Mozart Violin and Piano Sonatas – Horszowski, Szigeti, and Szell

By November 21, 2021No Comments

These sonatas by Mozart are the most important single contribution to the classical violin-piano sonata. They were composed in the years between Mozart’s early maturity and full ripeness as an artist and embody his most inspired lyricism and structural invention.

Some 18 sonatas technically for piano and violin were composed earlier than 1778, but they are Moart’s first keyboard sonatas (K. 6 – 15, K. 26 – 31, K. 46 d, e); he followed with the common practice then of adding a violin line to the keyboard work. His awakening to the power of the violin starts with the 5 concerti of 1775-6 and the solo violin section of his divertimenti.

Included in the excerpt are the following sonatas: K. 303 in C major; K. 376 in F major; K. 378 in B flat major; K. 379 in G major;
K. 454 in B flat major; K. 481 in E flat major; K. 526 in A major

Piano: Mieczyslaw Horszowski
Violin: Joseph Szigeti
Piano on K 454 and K 481: George Szell

Mozart’s favorite instrument for his own performance was the keyboard, although he mastered the violin quite early.

In 1778, when the first seven of the great 15 were written, Mozart, aged twenty-two, was in the Rhine city of Mainheim, looking for a post commensurate with this talents. His employer, the Archbishop of Salzburg, had grudgingly consented to the trip. It was in early in 1778 that Mozart wrote the Sonatina in C Major, K. 296. Here at one fell swoop, he created the classical three-movement violin-piano sonata.

(1892 – 1993)

Mieczysław Horszowski’s father owned a piano store and his mother was a pupil of Mikuli, who was a pupil of Chopin. She gave her son his first piano lessons and it was obvious from the beginning that he was a child prodigy, as at six years old he was transposing Bach’s two-part inventions. At the age of seven Horszowski began lessons with the great Theodor Leschetizky in Vienna, made his recital debut in Vienna at the age of eight and his orchestral debut, playing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 Op. 15, at ten. He then toured extensively throughout the capitals of Europe, and at the age of fourteen played for Queen Alexandra at Buckingham Palace in 1906, as well as making his London debut at Steinway Hall (where he was reported as being eleven years of age); played for Pope Pius X at the Vatican in Rome, and toured Brazil and Uruguay. In December of the same year Horszowski made his American recital debut at New York’s Carnegie Hall.

It was in the first forty years of his life that Horszowski was constantly before the public, and although he joined the staff of the Curtis Institute in 1942, he continued his performing career throughout the second half of the twentieth century, concentrating more often on chamber music performances. His New York orchestral debut was made with his friend Arturo Toscanini; they played Mozart’s Piano Concerto in B flat K. 595 (a live broadcast of 5 December 1943 from Rockefeller Center has been issued on compact disc by Naxos). Although never a ‘star’ headliner, he gave a series of twelve recitals in which he played all the solo works of Beethoven in New York in the mid-1950s, played the complete piano sonatas of Mozart in 1960 and ten of Mozart’s piano concertos in 1962. Horszowski gave another series of Mozart concertos in 1976, when he was eighty-four years old.

Horszowski loved to play chamber music and he formed partnerships with violinist Joseph Szigeti and cellist Pablo Casals. Horszowski also liked to collaborate with young musicians and often participated at the Marlboro Music Festival in Vermont with students and his friends Pablo Casals and Rudolf Serkin.

During the last three decades of Horszowski’s life he marked many anniversaries including the 70th and 80th anniversaries of his American debut. In June of 1987 he celebrated his 95th birthday by giving a concert at London’s Wigmore Hall and in December of the same year made his debut in Japan with a recital inaugurating the Casals Hall in Tokyo. (A recording of this concert was issued on compact disc in Japan on the Fun House label; it includes two works by Horszowski’s friend Villa-Lobos). His 98th birthday recital at the Wigmore Hall in June 1990 was broadcast by the BBC and has recently been issued on compact disc.

Horszowski gave his last Carnegie Hall recital in April 1990, two months before his 98th birthday and eighty-four years after his American debut. He was fortunate to have a devoted wife whom he married in 1981 when he was 89 years old. He had known Bice Costa for many years and she cared for him during the last decade of his long life. Horszowski had one of the longest careers of any pianist in history from his debut in 1900 to his final appearance in Philadelphia in October 1991. He was fortunate in having a temperament that enabled him to survive the ordeal of being a child prodigy and continue a performing career undisturbed and unfettered by the trappings of fame and notoriety. In fact, he was a name unknown to the general public until he was giving concerts in his nineties.

Horszowski’s style was not like that of many other Leschetizky pupils. Friedman, Paderewski and Hambourg were all virtuosi in the Romantic tradition, but Leschetizky treated all his students as individuals and did not impose a specific style on them. Schnabel was also a Leschetizky pupil, and Horszowski’s style, like Schnabel’s, is more akin to the cerebral interpretation of music, rather than extroverted display. His performances, however, did not give the impression of the artist as great thinker or philosopher. Horszowski played the piano as if it was the most natural thing in the world to do; his performances had an innocent, child-like quality where his own delight in the music radiated from him. He was able to make the greatest composers such as Bach, Mozart and Beethoven sound absolutely natural, the music evolving rather than being presented to the listener. One Leschetizky trait that was noticeable in his live performances was his wonderful tone quality: Horszowski never made a harsh or ugly sound at the keyboard, nothing was forced, everything was natural.

Although Horszowski’s career spanned the century in which the recording industry was established, he was not the type of artist whom record companies were eager to sign, as his public profile was not like that of a Horowitz or a Rubinstein. It is unfortunate that we have no solo recordings of Horszowski from the 78rpm era and sad to think that he could have been recorded when in London in 1906, or at any time during the ensuing forty years. In November 1936 he recorded Brahms’s Cello Sonata No. 2 in F Op. 99 and Beethoven’s Cello Sonata No. 4 Op. 102 No. 1 with his friend Pablo Casals whom he first met in 1906. In June of 1939 in Paris he recorded three more of the Beethoven cello sonatas with Casals.

In fact, for a man with such a long career, Horszowski made very few commercial recordings. Between 1949 and 1952 he recorded major works of Beethoven for Vox in America: the late sonatas Opp. 106, 109, 111, and the ‘Diabelli’ Variations Op. 120. At the same time he also recorded Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with Hans Swarowsky, and Chopin’s four impromptus. These recordings, plus more Beethoven from different sources, were issued on four compact discs in 1991 by the Swiss company Sonimex.

Vanguard recorded Horszowski in the first book of Bach’s Das wohltemperierte Klavier in 1979–1980, but the project was abandoned before the second book was completed. Horszowski’s best representation on disc is on the many issues of live performances produced by Pearl and Arbiter through the efforts of Allan Evans and Bice Costa Horszowski. Pearl issued an important historical document in broadcast recordings from the Vatican in 1940. These were recorded on tape, and are the earliest available representations of live Horszowski in solo repertoire. He plays works that he later dropped from his repertoire such as Liszt’s Deux légendes. He had studied Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with Leschetizky, but never performed it.

Horszowski’s repertoire was vast and included most of the solo and chamber works of Beethoven, Mozart and Chopin. He always took an interest in contemporary music and played works by Bartók, Honegger, Shostakovich, Stravinsky and a fair amount by his friends Szymanowski and Villa-Lobos. Horszowski and his mother kept a diary and these writings, translated and edited by Bice Costa Horszowski and illustrated with a large number of photographs, have been published as the book Miecio – Remembrances of Mieczysław Horszowski.

Horszowski was like no other pianist of the late twentieth century. He played for Eugen d’Albert, was impressed by Busoni, worked with Giovanni Sgambati, was present at the notorious première of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring and heard Scriabin in concert. His friends included Granados, Villa-Lobos and Szymanowski. An extraordinary figure in the annals of pianism, Horszowski was not only a great pianist, he was unique.

(1892 – 1973)

‘The Scholarly Virtuoso’ was born Joseph ‘Jóska’ Singer to a Jewish family in Budapest, becoming ‘Szigeti’ when, following his mother’s death when he was three, he lived with his grandparents in Máramaros-Sziget. Here he was surrounded by music, the town band being almost entirely comprised of his uncles, one of whom started him on the violin when he was six.

Like compatriots Vecsey, Telmányi, d’Arányi, Végh and Geyer, Szigeti was taught in the Hungarian tradition by Joachim’s former pupil Jenő Hubay, already one of the pre-eminent teachers in Europe. In 1905 Hubay took him to play for Joachim in Berlin but Szigeti declined to take tuition from the aged master.

A Berlin debut in 1905 was followed by his first tour of England, where he premiered the first work dedicated to him, Hamilton Harty’s Violin Concerto. He also toured with Nellie Melba, Ferruccio Busoni and others, the latter becoming his mentor and prompting him to develop the intellectual approach that earned him his nickname.

Following a bout of tuberculosis, during which he was reacquainted with Bartók who was at the same sanatorium recovering from pneumonia, Szigeti succeeded Marteau as Professor of Violin at the Geneva Conservatoire in 1917.

A strong advocate of new music who consciously cultivated working relationships with composers, Szigeti enjoyed the ‘living’ aspect of preparing and interpreting fresh works and extended this ethos to older repertoire. Amongst notable pieces written for him are Bloch’s Violin Concerto and Ysaÿe’s Solo Sonata No. 1; also Bartók’s Rhapsody No. 1 and Contrasts (the latter commissioned by Szigeti himself with Benny Goodman). Aside from modern interests he was an ardent admirer of Bach’s solo partitas and sonatas, considering them ‘the core of a violinist’s life’.

Szigeti recorded extensively from the 1930s to 1950s when arthritis began to affect his playing, although this did not stop audiences flocking to hear him. When he retired from performing and returned to Switzerland in 1960 he continued to teach and travelled regularly to judge violin competitions, perhaps with the hope of redeeming what he considered a badly flawed system of promoting or rejecting young artists. In Szigeti on the Violin he poured contempt on the whole phenomenon, writing: ‘[…] this gamble on the unforeseeable chances at competition is incompatible with the slow maturing either of the performing personality or of the repertoire […] which only contact with the public, its resonance, its rejections, can bring about.’