Is this the definitive KV 331?

SHEET MUSIC REVIEW • by ANDREW EALES
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Published in 1784, Mozart’s Sonata in A major, with its famous Rondo Alla Turca finale, is one of the most popular works in the entire classical piano repertoire.

A couple of years ago, a newly resurfaced section of the lost autograph prompted Bärenreiter to issue an up-to-date Urtext edition of this celebrated piece, which appeared as edition BA 9186.

Now, another source has surfaced with the appearance of a previously unknown contemporaneous copy of the complete manuscript, which has prompted the esteemed publisher to update their urtext edition again.

The newly discovered source by a professional Viennese copyist sheds new light on the numerous discrepancies between autographs and first editions of many Mozart sonatas. It supports the assumption that the revision of the text for the first edition resulted from the change of target group from Mozart’s inner circle to an audience of connoisseurs and amateurs, but that this did not render the original autograph text obsolete; rather, both versions of the sonata represent historical realities.

According to the publishers,

“To achieve a truly faithful scholarly-critical performance edition of Mozart’s sonata, the editor, Mario Aschauer, has set new editorial standards and offers the most innovative methodological approach of our time by presenting the musical texts of the autograph and the original print separately without merging the sources editorially to a new text. On the basis of the newly discovered source, it is possible for the first time to reconstruct the autograph of this famous sonata and offer it to the performer as a self-contained playable version.”

Exciting stuff, so let’s take a closer look!


Some Background

Mario Aschauer’s in-depth Preface includes a very well written account of the genesis and sources of KV 331.

Aschauer demonstrates that the Sonata was certainly written prior to February 9th, 1784, and probably the previous year as a vehicle for Mozart’s own playing and teaching. 1783 was the centenary year of the 1683 Second Siege of Vienna by the Turks, which also gives context to the famous Rondo alla Turca finale to the Sonata.

However, it was only published in June 1784, along with the Sonata in C major KV 330 and Sonata in F major KV 332. Together they appeared as Mozart’s “Op.6”, in a first edition published by Artaria. This edition has served as the primary source for modern editions of the piece, along with the fragment of the Rondo alla Turca which survives in original manuscript form.

Early in 2014 Dr. Balázs Mikusi, director of the collection of the Széchényi National Library in Budapest, identified another fragment of the original manuscript which includes bb.55-134 of the opening Andante grazioso (i.e. Var. 3 onwards), the Menuetto and start of the Trio.

This hugely significant find led to a hasty update of the urtext editions published by Henle and Wiener Urtext as well as Bärenreiter’s edition BA 9186.

When producing the BA 9186 edition, Mario Aschauer explained his view that both versions, the First Edition and the original manuscript, offer authentic versions of the work which should be assessed and evaluated on their own terms.

“Both forms of the sonata are historically legitimate; the editor has not merged the sources to produce a new text.”

But as we have the first edition, why does this matter?

Aschauer notes,

“For around half of Mozart’s 18 completed Sonatas known today the first editions diverge from the autographs in various ways…”

An Important Discovery

But barely had the ink dried on the various new editions which appeared around 2017, when a fresh discovery was made. In a dramatic plot twist, another hitherto unknown manuscript copy came up for auction in Munich.

The manuscript is undated and unsigned, but shows all the characteristics of a late 18th-century Viennese scribe. As to the provenance and importance of this new find, in his significantly expanded Preface to the brand new BA 11816 edition, Aschauer excitedly explains,

“The watermark of the paper appears similar to paper Mozart used at the beginning of 1784. The manuscript is in pristine condition and displays no signs of musical use whatsoever. Most importantly, however, unlike all other known copies, this manuscript is, directly or at least indirectly, based on the autograph.”

Aschauer goes on to note, however, that while the newly discovered manuscript copy is the closest we can presently get to filling in the missing parts from the actual autograph itself, there is an important caveat. Where they overlap, this new source includes numerous divergences from the extant autograph fragments, showing that the copy was somewhat carelessly written, displaying inconsistencies and errors that were typical for copyist manuscripts of the time.

For this new Bärenreiter edition, Aschauer thus presents two complete versions of the Sonata in A major KV 331: the first based on the first edition of Artarai (June 1784), the second reconstructed from the autograph fragments and other copies that predate the first edition, significantly made possible by this latest rediscovery.

Original Intentions

By providing both these versions rather than a composite with footnotes (as done by Henle, for example), Bärenreiter allow us a unique opportunity to compare and contrast each of these “historical realities”, as Aschauer puts it, and gain insight into Mozart’s use of notation and the subsequent process of Artaria’s editorial and publication.

Courtesy of Bärenreiter, here is the opening in each version. First, the edition based on the first edition of Artarai, June 1784:


And now the reconstruction from original manuscripts:


In the example shown, notice the differences in phrasing, and the expanded LH chords in bars 11-12 of Mozart’s original.

In many cases, a comparison sheds some light on the finer details of how we might approach interpreting and performing this extraordinary work.

As another example of the latter, how fascinating to find that in the third variation of the Andante grazioso, Mozart pointedly doesn’t slur the octave repeat of the melody, which players have so struggled to smoothly realise in the intervening centuries. And this despite the fact that Mozart clearly slurs the previous statement of the figure (not in octaves), and the LH alberti bass is slurred throughout.

  • Did Mozart feel that slurred octaves were too much to ask for?
  • Did he perhaps want a contrast in the phrasing (as is subsequently implied in bars 71-72)?
  • Or was he merely using shorthand, and saving ink?

A close comparison does however suggest that Artaria was perhaps a much more accurate engraver than might be expected, given Haydn’s contemporary suggestion elsewhere. “It is always painful to me that not a single work of mine that you have published is free of errors”, wrote Haydn in a rather caustic letter to Artaria dated 5 July 1789.

But the rediscovered manuscripts have at least provided authoritative corrections to the few Artaria misprints which have been historically repeated in previous editions, such as the incorrect rhythm in bars 95-6 of the first movement.

For those familiar with the piece from older versions and public domain editions, such corrections may come as a surprise!

While there are relatively few surprises in terms of alternative pitches or rhythm, differences in the details of articulation, dynamics, grace notes and beaming are more widespread, and no less fascinating.

I would certainly suggest that anyone planning to perform this Sonata would be wise to acquire the new Bärenreiter Urtext BA 11816 edition for their study and preparation. How interesting to play from both versions provided here!

The Publication

As ever when reviewing an edition from Bärenreiter, it is no mere hyperbole to advise that every aspect of this publication oozes class.

From the high-quality soft-touch cover (with it’s subtly larger format to other publishers), through the spacious and crystal-clear music and text engraving, to the gorgeous cream paper, and no-expense-spared priority given to generous critical commentary, editorial notes, preface and footnotes, this edition is a delight.


The Preface appears in both German and English, and has for this new version grown to twelve pages. Aschauer’s text covers the sources in depth, followed by an essay on the evaluation of the sources, notes on the edition itself, and a special section dealing with the genesis of the Allegrino, discussing the controversy around the repeats in the Rondo alla turca.

This controversy results in a shorter Allegrino in the second version of the score presented, down from four to three pages. To prevent an annoying page turn Bärenreiter have generously created a fold-out third page here.

Otherwise the two scores match in length and pagination, although as with all Bärenreiter urtext editions it should be remembered that fingering suggestions are not included.

The Preface also includes a seperate five page essay on Performance Practice, which covers topics such as early Viennese pianos, pedalling, touch, articulation, and embellishments. This includes several musical examples, as well as facsimile images of Mozart’s autograph score.

Finally, the book concludes with a six page Critical Commentary (although there are also ample footnotes included alongside the musical text).

Having considered all the above, readers may be surprised to learn that the Bärenreiter Urtext edition currently has a suggested retail price of just £9.00.

Closing Thoughts

With its painstaking research, outstanding commentary and background information, and above all by presenting both complete versions of the work, Mario Aschauer’s edition is a singular achievement.

Unless the absence of fingering suggestions is a deal-breaker, I think that this new edition of Mozart’s KV 331 is now without doubt the one to own and use, whether you teach the work, are planning to feature it in a recital, or have selected the first movement for a Grade 8 exam programme (it’s in the 2021-2 ABRSM syllabus).

For all students and performers of Mozart’s music, this revelatory new edition is a priority purchase, and must be recommended without reservation.


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Published by

Andrew Eales

Andrew Eales is a widely respected piano educator, published author and composer based in Milton Keynes UK, where he runs a successful private teaching studio.

2 thoughts on “Is this the definitive KV 331?”

    1. Likewise! The Henle version I have is I think the first thing they ever published believe it or not!
      Quite old now, but still a classic edition (and of course they’ve updated it over the years as noted in this review).

      Like

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