A Piano Fantasy for a Handful of Florins

A Night’s Treasure. © Charles Thibo

Through the night with Mozart: Fantasia in C minor, K. 475 🎶🎹🌙 – such was the tweet I sent in April last year. I was on my own, everyone had gone to bed and I was up late, marveling at this magic piece of music, the special mood it conveyed, alternating between tranquility and anxiety, a passion simmering below a calm surface. I consciously enjoyed every note, every chord and Maria Joao Pires’ splendid phrasing, emotional and yet with sufficient distance to avoid falling into something artificial or hollow.

Mozart – what a strange man he was! On that specific evening I had been reading a few more pages from “Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – A Life in Letters”, a collection of letters by Wolfgang and his father Leopold. The first part is from Leopold’s pen as his son was too young to write to anyone. Wolfgang was 12, they had done a lengthy tour through Western Europe during which Leopold presented the child prodigy to Europe’s nobility to cover the travel expenses and to raise the prospect of a patronage for Wolfgang. They had failed in Vienna to secure the favours of the Imperial Court, partly due to an outbreak of smallpox that limited social interaction and partly to the fact that the court was no to inclined to spend much money on entertainment.

Times are changing. I’m no longer on Twitter. And when Mozart was writing the Fantasia in C Minor in May 1785, his fortune had improved. He had left his hometown Salzburg and his former employer, Archbishop Hieronymus von Colloredo, and he had embarked on a career as a freelance composer and musician in Vienna. He was busy. “My hands are so full that I can scarcely ever find a minute to call my own”, he wrote to the Privy Councillor Anton Klein on 21 March 1785. Concertos, sonatas, chamber music, operas… his industrious was just as impressive as his musical genius.

KV 475 is one of the few piano improvisations that Mozart actually wrote down. It was published in the year it was written, and the editor most likely paid only a handful of florins for it. In 1990 the manuscript would be auctioned at Sotheby’s for 800,000 £. It had been founded in a safe at the Eastern Baptist Theological Seminar in Philadelphia and is now in the possession of the Mozarteum foundation in Salzburg. John Irving writes that “the reemergence of this autograph is the single most significant recent event to affect Mozart scholarship and allows a reappraisal of the genesis of what is perhaps his most important (and certainly his most substantial) solo piano work.”

I recommend the very emphatic recording by Maria Joao Pires.

© Charles Thibo

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de Chareli

Writer, photographer, piano student, music enthusiast. And a lot more. You are welcome to follow my blog.