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Violin Sonata in E minor, K. 300c (K. 304)

October 5, 2014 – Arnaud Sussmann, violin; Gilles Vonsattel, piano

Mozart had written his father from Mannheim on October 6, 1777: “I send my sister herewith six duets for clavicembalo and violin by [Joseph] Schuster, which I have often played here. They are not bad. If I stay on I shall write six myself in the same style, as they are very popular here.” Mannheim flutist Johann Baptist Wendling also encouraged him to write “duets for piano and violin” to help make a living once he got to Paris. Of the seven sonatas resulting from these urges, he wrote five of them in Mannheim in early 1778 and two (including the E minor) in Paris in the early summer of that year. Six of these became known as the Palatine sonatas because Mozart dedicated them to Maria Elisabeth, wife of the Elector of Palatine, when they were published in November 1778 in Paris. The remaining Sonata in C major was included in a group of six published in 1781.

Five of the Palatine Sonatas, including the present E minor, consist of only two movements, a configuration Mozart may have borrowed from Johann Christian Bach or Joseph Haydn—or possibly Schuster, whose six sonatas mentioned above unfortunately do not survive. The E minor Sonata, which many consider the greatest of the Palatine Sonatas, is one of only two chamber works with piano and strings in which Mozart employed a minor key (the other being the G minor Piano Quartet, K. 478). Many have suggested that this alternately dramatic and elegiac Sonata and the equally emotionally intense A minor Piano Sonata, K. 310, written around the same time, reflect personal loss—his beloved mother, who had traveled with him to Paris, died on July 3, 1778, after a brief illness. Or he may have been reacting to the enforced separation from his new-found love, Aloysia Weber, the young soprano who lived in Mannheim. Speculation must end there, however, because no one knows the precise dates of composition.

The E minor Sonata’s dramatic unison opening leads to a harmonized presentation of the same melody. Each new idea in this movement contains a bit of something that went before, thus unifying the whole. The recapitulation begins with a dramatic reharmonization of the first theme that points to the Romantic world of Beethoven.

The second and final movement is labeled “Tempo di Menuetto,” but it behaves more like a rondo, with two episodes interpolated between recurrences of the soulful minuet “refrain.” The first of these episodes offers a stylish sweetness and a piano flourish leading back to the minuet theme. The second, an extended section with two halves each repeated, begins with a soft chordal theme in the piano, and permits, in the words of the great Mozart scholar Alfred Einstein, “a brief glimpse of bliss.”

© Jane Vial Jaffe

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