MOZART'S PIANO SONATA NO. 16 K. 545- NOT A FACILE ONE?

Hello reader and welcome to beethoman.com. Today, I will talk about musical form. It won’t be any form, but sonata form. Also, it will be quite interesting one. I guess that many of you have heard Mozart’s Piano Sonata No. 16 K 545. It is sometimes called Facile sonata, mainly because of its easiness in terms of technical requirements needed for its playing. However, as much as easy it is to play, the first movement of this sonata has some remarkable formal procedures in it. Having said that, let’s find out what is so unusual about this sonata form.

Classical sonata form

Long story short, classical sonata form usually has 3 large parts – exposition, development and recapitulation. What is very important is the tonal dualism of the exposition and the tonal unification of the recapitulation. That being said, in the course of the exposition, two themes will be in different keys, and in the course of the recapitulation both themes will be in the original key – the key of the Main theme.

Now, the keywords are “usually” and “tonal unification”. You see, it doesn’t have to be like that all the time. Composers are always trying to find a new way, an original one if possible, to create a musical form. That is especially important when it comes to sonata form, which permanently, even after 250 years still manages to be unique under the hands of talented composer. You can only imagine how many possibilities composers had back in a day when it was a new form.

Music theory often refers to it as deviations (of the norm). However, perhaps the word individuality better suits the intention of the composer. Back in the day, Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven did not have the exact list what a sonata form should have. Heck, these composers very much sculptured the sonata form as we know it today. Haydn especially. Some procedures that we might call deviations were not deviations to them. I believe this is an important thing which we should always have in our minds.

Mozart's Piano Sonata No. 16

Mozart’s Piano Sonata No. 16 K. 545 was written in 1788. Now, those years were marked by the Sturm und Drang’s influence, a proto-Romantic movement inside Classical period which brought many changes to the previous, early classical style. If you’re interested in that topic, click here. This sonata for a solo instrument is by far one of the most representative work of Mozart and classical music in general. 

Obviously, this piece has something interesting. Otherwise, I would not pick it for an analysis. The first movement of this piano sonata is written in a sonata form. But, it is not an ordinary sonata form. You see, this piece of music has some strong individuality in it. The key points are the Main theme and one measure after it, both in the exposition and the recapitulation.

In the exposition

When it comes to the Main theme and one measure after it in the exposition, we must pay attention to the end of the Main theme. The original key is C Major. However, the end of the Main theme may lead us to the thought that the musical flow modulated to the dominant G Major. Appearance of the F# in the 10th measure, as well as the emphasis on the G note throughout the measures 11-12 may indicate the new tonic.

On the other side, it could be just the secondary dominant that leads to the dominant chord which creates a half-cadence in the 12th measure. Listening to this segment does not help us a lot neither. What I hear when listening to these 12 measures is vague and in my opinion it could lead both to the C Major, but also could be the tonic of the new G Major (Example 1).

Example 1

That’s where the one measure after the Main theme comes in handy. In formal sense, this measure is actually the upbeat of the Subordinate theme. The emphasis is on the note D, which is the dominant of the G Major, key of the Subordinate theme. That being said, the bridge is absent from this sonata form. There’s no need for its existence, because tonal contrast has already been reached by the end of the Main theme (Example 1). Although this is an individuality of its kind, it is not the main issue with this sonata form. The main issue is however, the status of the Main theme in the recapitulation.

In the recapitulation

The recapitulation begins in the 42th measure, after quite brief development part. There is something strange in this appearance of the Main theme though. The original key is C Major and the recapitulation should be in that key. But, the musical flow in the 42th measure clearly indicates the use of F Major. This is the subdominant key.

This procedure often includes the appearance of the Main theme once again in the original key – a famous “double return”. It is also called “false recapitulation” in the Eastern Europe region, because the true recapitulation of the Main theme comes after that “false” part in the key that is not the original one. However, that is not the case here. The musical flow continues straight to the end of the Main theme, without the return of the complete Main theme in the original key. Instead of that return, the musical flow modulates in course of the Main theme back to C Major (Example 2). Such a procedure in the Eastern Europe region is called “premature recapitulation”, because the original key was not reached at the beginning of the recapitulation.

An important trait of Mozart's Piano Sonata No. 16

Now, this is an important trait of this sonata form. I believe that it happened because of the style, the Sturm und Drang movement, which encourages such bold formal procedure. Even though this piece is fairly easy to play, perhaps Mozart used it as a playground for formal experiments. Composers often do it when they want to test something, especially when it comes to the piano pieces.

On the other hand, such a conception of the Main theme in the recapitulation is in a close connection with that one measure after the Main theme. You see, in the exposition, that measure assured us that the modulation to the dominant Major was real. In the recapitulation, the function of that measure is to convince us that the original key is restored (Example 2). C-G and F-C – both modulations are 5th apart. While that measure after the Main theme in the exposition featured the dominant function of the G Major, in the recapitulation it features the dominant function of the original C Major. Which I find really beautiful, because I love symmetry.

Example 2

The final words

This is only one of the many possible ways to make a sonata form unique. Keep in mind that not all pieces written in a sonata form should have the basic parts and that correlations between those parts do not always have to be what many theory books call “the norm”. Sonata form is a live organism of its own, it changes constantly and individuality is very valuable. It creates uniqueness.

If you like this post, please share it with your friends, colleagues or students. If you would like to know how Sabaton and Beethoven were linked in one of Sabaton’s songs, click here. Until the next reading, stay safe and enjoy the music.

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