Imitation, extrapolation, improvisation, composition: all are part of the truly fluent musician’s education and evolution. So it was for Mozart; so it is for musical “completist” – to give the term a new spin – educator, writer and broadcaster Timothy Jones; and for period-instrument violinist Rachel Podger and (forte) pianist Christopher Glynn.
Coming some years after Podger’s and Gary Cooper’s marvellous, widely acclaimed complete period-instrument recordings of Mozart violin sonatas, also for Channel Classics, these “World premiere recordings of six sonata-allegros and a fantasia for violin and piano, completed by Timothy Jones” are an utter delight from start to finish. They are also a provocative pendant of sorts to those recordings, with Jones offering two of his many different completions for each of the three sonata fragments: a Sonata in B flat for piano and violin from 1782, a Sonata in A for piano and violin from 1784, and a Sonata in G for piano and violin from 1789. In between the two sets of alternative completions comes a swirling, dramatic, sigh-laden completion of a Fantasia in C Minor for piano and violin from 1782.
Some aspects of Jones’ motivations and methods are worth sharing here. “At the heart, I wanted to see what would happen if I tried to ‘perform’ the notation in the same way that it seems Mozart did,” writes Jones in his entertaining and erudite booklet note. So, to write “very fast”. To pay attention to the “stylistic context” of each fragment. To apply, while observing Mozart avoids repeating himself, “the principle of stylistic models, not their letter”.
Jones, for whom these completions form part of a much larger project focussing on Mozart’s late fragments, admits he doesn’t know how Mozart might have finished the works in question. Hence the importance of multiple solutions to the problem, to “test hypotheses about the material” and see where we might end up.
I love this, too: “My completions inevitably disfigure Mozart’s music; but I have never had a problem hearing performers’ own improvised or composed cadenzas in Mozart’s concertos, and my task here was just one step further. I hope these sonata movements might be found diverting as a piece of criticism, if nothing else.”
Indeed. And what is interpretation but performative criticism? Anyway, all this aside, the proof’s in the pudding. Are we convinced we’re listening to Mozart’s music? And is it “diverting”? Without laying claim to being either a musicologist or a Mozart specialist, I can unequivocally answer “yes” to both questions.
More importantly perhaps, just knowing that these compositions and performances are part of a dynamic and sensitive engagement with Mozart’s music that’s as open-ended as the fragments themselves makes the former even more thrilling, more revelatory, more satisfying. The genuine musical conversation among composer, “completist” and musicians is palpable. This is Mozart’s musical world in microcosm, his operas, symphonies, chamber and solo instrumental music evoked or implicit in passages and paragraphs of sparkling ebullience, wistful melancholy and balletic exhilaration.
This is not reconstruction. This is living music.
Listen on Apple Music.
Works: Violin Sonatas Fragment Completions
Performers: Rachel Podger v, Christopher Glynn fp
Label: Channel Classics CSSSA42721 (SACD)