Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Sinfonia Concertante in Eb Major
Following on from the popular Baroque Concerto Grosso form, the Classical period’s successor came in the form of the Sinfonia Concertante. A form that celebrates clear soloistic roles from several soloists, creating thrilling double, triple and even quadruple concertos. Particularly favoured in European cities such as France and Germany, Mozart was found experimenting in the genre when on tour of Europe.
Inspiration for his Sinfonia Concertante in Eb major came when Mozart was on tour around Europe, in particular visiting cities such as Paris and Mannheim. Sketches for this work have largely been lost, so much of the musicological history of this work is hard to place. However, the final realised score was finished when Mozart returned to Salzburg in the summer of 1779.
Also around this time Mozart had composed popular concertos such as the Concerto for Flute and Harp (1778) and Concerto for Two Pianos (1779). However, his Sinfonia Concertante stands out as one of his most musically rich.
As the title suggests, this work is essentially a symphony that behaves like a concerto. It has two soloists – a violin and viola. Mozart cleverly utilises the orchestra to create a harmonious relationship between the soloists and the orchestra. Throughout the piece Mozart seamlessly intertwines the soloists and orchestra to emphasise the two different genres. Sinfonia Concertante is in three movements:
I. Allegro maestoso
I. Allrego maestoso
The first movement, marked Allegro maestoso, is dramatic and majestic in its presentation of the orchestra as a unit. Out of the orchestra appear the two soloists, both of them playing the main theme. Mozart writes the viola part not in Eb, but in D. The reason for this is because D is much more sonorous key for the viola, giving it the advantage of clearer open strings and control over their overtones. This movement is bold, brave and a quintessential opening movement from Mozart.
The passionate second movement emphasises Mozart’s luscious emotional string writing. You can certainly tell he favoured the viola, as the orchestra parts are rich in harmonies and intriguing melodic movement. The soloists present a call and response motif that takes us through an extensive developmental section. There is a deep sense of pathos throughout this movement, and Mozart’s sumptuous writing for the two soloists heightens this atmosphere twofold.
The high-spirited and charismatic finale movement is fast in tempo. Mozart’s virtuosic writing for the soloists shines through in this exciting finale, with his written cadenzas being some of the most exciting of all his works. The triumphant atmosphere created by this movement can be heard from the bubbling excitement from the orchestra as they unify to support the two soloists as they play their highly developed melodic material. Mozart’s exciting woodwind writing is particularly pertinent in this movement, with it adding both melodic support and a range of different timbres in the overall mix. The movement ends on a triumphant tonic chord.
Composed during a particularly experimental time for Mozart, his bold Sinfonia Concertante in Eb major has proved its longevity through its inspired handling of two dominant solo instruments, its memorable and highly popular melodic content, and its virtuosic brilliance. Mozart’s handling of the orchestra and the soloists makes it a staple in the sinfonia concertante genre.