In 1759, C. P. E. Bach wrote a remarkable preface for a new opus of sonatas, Six Sonatas with Varied Reprises, Wq 50. Acknowledging (not without sarcasm) a fashion for the keyboardist-performer to add embellishments or variations (Veränderungen) to the repeat, Bach offers a model of good practice. Writing out every repeat, Bach provides his buyer with printed scores that indulge in embellishment and variation. “When producing these sonatas,” he had in mind “beginners and amateurs” who no longer would have “to invent such variations themselves or have them prescribed by others and then memorize them with lots of effort.”
What happens when we submit ourselves to such an expectation of continuous variation? And how far can we go, writing our own variants in existing scores? At what point do we feel like starting over, creating a new edition altogether? These questions were at the heart of a ten-day workshop at the Orpheus Institute in July 2023.
Six young players from around the world joined us around six historical keyboards: three clavichords in Saxon style (by Joris Potvlieghe) and three Stein fortepianos (by Chris Maene). Bach’s opus served as our reference and inspiration as we explored the practice of varying repeats in Mozart’s six sonatas K. 279–84. Having written these in Munich during the winter of 1774–75, Mozart brought them along as a portfolio on his trip back to Munich, Augsburg, and Mannheim during the fall and winter of 1777–78.
Why these sonatas? Because Leopold Mozart must have had them in mind when on October 7, 1775 he wrote to Breitkopf, the “famous book merchant in Leipzig” and asked the latter whether he might wish to print an opus of keyboard sonatas “in the same manner as those of Mr. Philipp Carl Emanuel Bach with varied reprises” (underlining by L. Mozart). The publication did not happen—but what if it had?
Why these instruments? Because they represent the tactile and sonic space for invention and delivery that may be associated with these two opuses of six keyboard sonatas. Upon meeting the instrument builder Stein, Mozart enthusiastically tells his father on October 17, 1777 that “the last sonata ex D [K. 284] works incomparably well on the Stein pianofortes.” Bach’s self-identification with the clavichord is well known, but on his trip Mozart also encountered many clavichords, happily performing his sonatas (“all six of them”) “quite often and by heart.”
The assignment for each workshop participant was twofold: first, to engage in a practice of embellishment and variation, and second, to prepare “their” Mozart sonata for a video recording at the end of the workshop.
We are pleased to publish the results, along with a filmed documentary. Enjoy!