Mozart: Piano Sonata K.311

I know some of you are preparing for the piano diploma exams (ATCL/dipABRSM/LTCL/LRSM/FTCL/FRSM), and you might be lost at how to find information on writing programme notes and preparing for viva voce.

Here for Mozart’s Piano Sonata in D major, K.311, I compile some brief information from various sources (listed under each quote). I hope that helps you to get started!

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The Piano Sonata K.311 in D major is in three movements. The Allegro opens with a theme that is orchestral in conception. After a modulation to the dominant, there is a secondary theme that sounds much more like a keyboard solo with its Alberti bass figures and scale-like melody. Mozart slowly increases the rhythmic intensity of the development section until a sudden stop near the middle, where piano and forte dynamics alternate. The order of events in the recapitulation is unusual. The second theme, now in the tonic, is followed by two ideas from the closing area, then the first theme, and finally a brief coda of entirely new material followed by the third closing idea. Mozart sets the G major Andante in what is often referred to as “rondo-slow movement form,” a variant of slow-movement sonata form (sonata form without a development section) in which the contrasting material (section B) is recapitulated in the tonic and followed
by a return of section A. Sudden and wide dynamic contrasts are also a part of the Andante, which features an elegant opening theme fit for a vocal performance. The closing Rondeau is filled with energy and surprises. The first return of the rondo theme features a transposition of its second half to G major, which then introduces the second episode. The close of this episode is a cadenza passage with three different tempos that lead, concerto-like, into the return of the rondo theme and the close of the movement.

Source: PLASENCIA, BENNY JOHN, UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA, MASTER OF MUSIC, GRADUATE PIANO RECITAL PROGRAM NOTES

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This “little” D-major sonata is somewhat the pansy (or violet?) among Mozart’s eighteen piano sonatas. It is “little” in dimensions when compared to the two other sonatas in the same key of D major (K. 284, and especially K. 576). It is very seldom heard in concert; and in piano lessons, too, is played less frequently. Admittedly it is not enveloped by the tragic gloom of the Sonata in A minor K. 310, nor does it have a wonderfully heartfelt slow movement like the Sonata in C major K. 309, these being the two works with which it was printed in Paris in 1778. K. 311, however, is pianistically “worthwhile” in many regards: in the opening movement one can practice several standard technical challenges (hand-crossings, effervescent runs, parallel sixths, tremolos at large intervals, etc.). The slow movement (“Andante con espressione”) hones expressiveness, something that does not always come naturally to many keyboardists (a compositional trick also makes a surprise appearance at bar 25). With its lively 6/8 meter, the finale in turn recalls not only the veritable “Hunt Sonata” K. 576 but could almost have come from the solo part of a Mozartean piano concerto. All in all: a worthwhile challenge, this sonata, which sounds much harder than its technical demands require.

Source: Henle Verlag

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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Piano Sonata No. 9 in D major, K. 311 / 284c, was written on the composer’s stay in Augsburg and Mannheim in November-December 1777, and is contemporaneous with his Sonata K. 309 (Mozart wrote his Sonata K. 310 in the summer of the following year, in Paris). The three sonatas K. 309–311 were published as a set ‘Opus IV’ in about 1782, by Franz Joseph Heina in Paris.

The work has three movements:

A typical performance takes about 15 to 17 minutes.

The first movement is in sonata form. Its first subject has a quasi-orchestral opening, and its second subject in the dominant key (A major) is quieter. The development section is almost entirely based on the last four bars of the exposition.

The second movement has an episodic structure A-B-A-B-A-coda. The second theme’s melody is gently decorated with syncopation, accompanied by broken chords in the left hand. This key is G major, the subdominant of D major.

Lastly, the most technically demanding movement of the three is a sonata rondo, with a short central episode in B minor (the main key’s relative minor). A slow cadenza-like passage containing a rapid ascending chromatic scale leads back to the first theme. In this passage the beginnings of the main theme of the famous second movement of the Piano Concerto No. 21 in C Major, K. 467, can be heard emerging – 8 years before he wrote it in 1785.

Source: BBC

And for those who want to learn more about Mozart’s sonatas in terms of structure and form, you can go to this link for the article by Robert Batt -it dives deep into the details about sonata form.

And here is a brief note from the article:

…the possible functions of the sonata-form transition as follows:

1.Modulation to the new key

2. Development of a motive or motives from the first theme

3. Introduction of a mood which contrasts with that of both first and
second themes

4. Introduction of new material which contrasts thematically with
both first and second theme

5. Preparation of the listener for the second theme by gradual change
from one mood to another

6. Preparation of the listener for the second theme by anticipation
of its characteristic rhythm or melodic motive
Like most textbook summaries of transitions (or other aspects of form)

Again here is the link to the article for further reading.

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Good luck with your exam! And if you need help, you can contact me for my online piano program on viva voce and/or programme notes preparation or on performance.

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