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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Mozart's famous Piano Sonata No. 8 in A minor (K. 310 or K. 300d, depending on whose reckoning you go by) was composed in Paris in 1778 and published there a few years later as Op. 4/3. In this work, written at age 22 or so, Mozart at last tries his hand at a sonata in the minor mode. The Piano Sonata No. 8 is, in fact, one of just three minor mode instrumental sonatas ever composed by the man: of the 22 piano sonatas (that includes four lost early ones), just two are not in the major mode, and this is the earlier of them (the other is K. 457 in C minor); and of the 30-some sonatas for keyboard and violin, only No. 21 in E minor (K. 300c, composed, like the Piano Sonata No. 8, in 1778) represents its side of the modal spectrum. One gets the feeling, listening to the Sonata in A minor, that Mozart had been stocking up on minor mode drama for some time when he wrote it. Its stormy music is a far cry from the happy-hearted, light-footed sonata fare composed up to that point.

The first of the sonata's three movements is an Allegro maestoso, whose heavy, dotted principal theme is pounded out to a stomping chordal left-hand accompaniment -- the rhythm and the texture are heavy from the get-go, and only after some time does Mozart fall into the more familiar streamlined, Alberti bass style of piano writing. The second theme, in the expected key of C major, is by contrast all grace -- the running sixteenth notes of its melody should be played as though tickling the keys. For a middle movement, Mozart concocted a lovely Andante cantabile in F major. The Presto finale bounds forth in 2/4 meter, its tune driven by an accompaniment whose one-bar pattern begins on the offbeat.