Notes from the Piano Bench 1 – Mozart’s “Easy” Sonata
In this post, we will be looking at specific sections from a beautiful piece of the piano literature: Mozart’s Piano Sonata in C Major, K. 545 (first movement).
I want to share with you two tips that I hope will help you play with more expressivity and ease. So let’s get right into it!
Tip number 1: Think of the first movement as an opera overture
Mozart’s overtures are full of contrasts of mood and dynamics. The music can whisper one moment and sing joyfully in another. Have a listen to the overture to The Marriage of Figaro. After only 10 seconds, Mozart springs a surprise on his listeners like no other!
This is the kind of characterisation I would like you to apply to the first movement of the Mozart sonata.
Starting at the beginning, your right hand should shape the melody the way a soprano would sing it. This means that the melody has crescendo, diminuendo, and breathing spaces. As a suggestion, the first note of bar 1 has a crescendo to the first note of bar 2, after which there is a diminuendo to the C on the third beat (a resolution). The fourth crotchet beat is a rest, so remember to breathe there—you wouldn’t want to run out of breath before the end of the next phrase, would you?
Try applying this to bars 3 and 4. You might want to play slightly louder in those bars because the melody is now in a higher register.
The scale passage which begins in bar 5 isn’t “just scales”—it is a wonderful wave. Shape it as beautifully as you can.
Now look at bar 14. The melody has shorter note values now. The articulation is also crisper. Furthermore, the left hand accompaniment adds to the more timid character of the music. Aim to play at a softer dynamic level, at least until the end of bar 17.
Let’s jump to bar 26. It is triumphant there. Play with confident fingers but be careful not to tighten your wrist. You must allow your right hand wrist to rotate laterally so that you can play the arpeggios.
If you go straight into bar 29 from there, you will notice a very stark contrast. How does the music sound here compared to bar 26? Savour the drama—apply more arm weight and try using the sustaining pedal on the first beat of bar 29 on the unison G’s. Can you make it sound like something sinister is about to happen?
Tip number 2: Mark out the arrival points in the Development to help you memorise it
The Development is a big journey from G minor to F major. The arrival points are as follows:
Bar 29: G minor
Bar 33: D minor
Bar 42 (beginning of Recapitulation): F major
In addition to the above, it is also very helpful to know that there is a Circle of Fifths between bar 37 and bar 40. Try playing the series of triads below one after another and you will hear the harmonic outline of this passage more clearly when you play it as Mozart wrote it.
A minor — D minor — G major — C major — F major — B diminished — E major — A minor
If you feel extra nerdy, the harmony in the first half of bar 41 is the Neapolitan 6th of A minor…
Bonus: You will also notice that there is a pattern in the bars where both hands play scales: the hands travel in opposite directions until bar 37 where both hands begin playing descending scales.
I hope the above has given you good food for thought and I welcome any feedback and questions that you may have. In addition to that, if you would like to me to help you with a specific difficulty that you have in a piece you are learning, please feel free to write it in the comments below and I will address it in a future post.
Happy exploring and practising!
Malaysian concert pianist Lee Jae Phang continues to astound audiences with his virtuosity, expressiveness, and searching intellect. He has been lauded for his “great ability to play a wide variety of repertoire with great interpretation and passion” and for his spellbinding accounts of complex masterworks such as Tippett’s Piano Sonata No. 3.
Along with 15 other people, Lee Jae once held a Guinness World Record for the largest number of people playing the same piano simultaneously.
Lee Jae is also a notable accompanist and chamber musician and complements all his perfoming with his passion for teaching. He strongly believes that music enriches our lives and loves helping young pianists reach their full musical potential.
More information can be found on his website: https://phanglj12.wixsite.com/lee-jae-phang