What an extraordinarily original and daring way to begin a piece, with a ringing spare, bare octave, followed by a motif that creeps rather than sings, jostled by one diminished chord after another. Mozart’s audience must have been struck dumb. The work dates from May 1785 and is frequently performed in tandem with the C minor Sonata, K457, in part because they were published together and both dedicated to Therese von Trattner. But both are so potent in their own right, so drenched in despair—for Mozart C minor was a key of inkiest blackness—that such an approach can only lessen their individual impact. The Mozart scholar Alfred Einstein greatly admired the Fantasia
, commenting on Mozart’s ‘ability to indulge in the greatest freedom and boldness of imagination, the most extreme contrast of ideas, the most uninhibited variety of lyric and virtuoso elements while yet preserving structural logic’. That freedom is exhibited in many ways—chromaticism abounds, and again and again Mozart ratchets up the tension by increasing dissonance rather than resolving it. Effects such as tremolos prefigure Liszt, and intensify the feeling that we’ve swapped the salon for the high drama of the opera house, with passages that emulate recitative, arioso and aria.
The entire work is pervaded by a sense of restlessness full of constantly shifting moods, daring modulations and the exploitation of the complete range of the contemporary piano, with the hands often in widely contrasting registers, a particularly strong colouristic effect on a period instrument. And yet, as Einstein points out, it is structurally coherent, falling into several clear sections, with the second Adagio recalling the first.
While this sense of clearly mapped-out sections—equally evident in the other C minor work here—may owe something to the fantasias of CPE Bach, that is where the similarity ends. In scope and depth of mood Mozart looks far into the future, to Liszt, perhaps even on to Busoni. It is hardly surprising that there were at least three orchestral versions made of K475 early in the nineteenth century, so potent are its colouristic effects.
from notes by Harriet Smith © 2008