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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Pity the pianist who relies on Mozart's designation of K. 576 as a "leichte Klaviersonate" -- an easy piano sonata. The work was written in 1789, shortly after the composer's return from a largely unsuccessful concert tour of Potsdam, Leipzig, and finally, Berlin, where the sonata may have been aimed at a princess at the Prussian court. Little came of Mozart's journey in the way of fresh commissions, and small wonder: some have suggested that this D major sonata is actually the most difficult of the composer's 18 in technical terms. The technical problems come not in the sprightly thematic material, but in its thoroughly contrapuntal treatment, perhaps inspired by Mozart's visit to Leipzig and his reacquaintance with the dormant but still enormously influential masterpieces of J.S. Bach. The sonata has three movements in the usual fast-slow-fast configuration. The first movement, an Allegro in a jaunty 6/8 time, abounds with imitative entrances that, taken individually, might have come from Bach inventions, but they resolve themselves into chordally accompanied scale material; the music never loses its graceful, Classical flow. This sonata, owing to its horn-call opening, has sometimes been given the nicknames of "Trumpet" or "Hunt," and the work's basic intellectual attraction is established at the outset when this stereotypical figure is unexpectedly subjected to imitation. The second subject area of the exposition is extracted from the opening material in a way Haydn would have been proud of, and the development section is an especially dense contrapuntal essay. The Adagio middle movement, in A major, is a limpid melody gently darkened by chromatic runs, and the Allegretto finale, nearly as contrapuntal as the first movement, sandwiches forte, chromatic, and virtuosic treatments of its main material between the seemingly meek statements of that material that mark off the movement's basic divisions. This was Mozart's last piano sonata, and it perennially appeals both to pianists seeking a Mozartean challenge and to those interested in the point of counterpoint in Mozart's late works.