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Understanding Mozart's Piano Sonatas

John Irving Director of The Institute of Musical Research, School of Advanced Study, University of London

Ashgate: October 2010 Website price: £45.00

Mozart's piano sonatas are staples of the pianist's repertoire and fortepianist musicologist John Irving explores them broadly in "a wide selection of contextual situations", focusing on how they assume identities and achieve different meanings. He seeks to establish the provisionality of the sonatas' notated texts, demonstrating through examining the many editions that often they are but indications of performance options, with Mozart's fame as an improviser never far away.

He deals with the significance of their sound on eighteenth-century fortepianos, a regular preoccupation of Musical Pointers.

The book is easy to approach, with virtuosic writing in the earlier sections to draw you right in. But the later analyses, especially those of individual sonata movements, do become very dense and, for ordinary music lovers, may be somewhat daunting, though they should become necessary (if not essential) companions to an aspiring recitalist's own workaday edition of the sonatas (mine is Breitkopf/Reinecke; he died exactly a century ago!). Reading Irving will broaden appreciation and swiftly eliminate any notion that the page open on the piano's music stand is The Work...

Drawing together and synthesizing a wealth of material, Irving provides an invaluable reference source for those already familiar with this repertoire, and will steer others towards a more open listening, making it impossible to come to a view that any particular recording, especially by the "greats" of yesteryear, can be accepted as definitive.

From our point of view, this book is timely for bringing scholarship to bear soon after our exposure in London to Malcolm Bilson's championship of Mozart and Beethoven on fortepiano in recital and on disc, and hearing the spectacular recent Mozart recordings by Kristian Bezuidenhout, soon to take a prominent part in London's musical life.

These scholar musicians are bringing a new and ever enlarging audience to historically informed early keyboard performances, appreciation and acceptance of which has tended to lag behind that for early strings and winds.

Irving does not aim to destroy at a stroke older music lovers' devotion to great pianists of the historic past and the earlier decades of recording, but times move on and his thorough analyses of Mozart's sonatas here (and of the Concertos, 2003) are essential and important for bringing the Eighteenth Century into the Twenty First.

John Irving's books ought to become prescribed reading for serious aspiring pianists and their teachers; copies should be in every College/Academy Piano Department's library.

Peter Grahame Woolf

John Irving is Director of The Institute of Musical Research, School of Advanced Study, University of London, and Professor of Music History and Performance Practice at The University of Bristol. His previous books on Mozart* include studies of the solo keyboard music, string quartets and piano concertos. He is also a fortepianist, performing and recording both on historic keyboards and modern copies.

See also John Irving in recital

and (for Christmas) treat your family to his magnificent illustrated book* The Treasures of Mozart (2009) [Editor]