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Revealing performance style

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A 19th-century edition of Mozart’s ‘Viennese’ sonatas for keyboard and violin reveals a performance style far removed from that of the composer’s own time, according to new research by a Cardiff academic.

In the early 1840s Felix Mendelssohn performed a number of Mozart’s sonatas for keyboard and violin with virtuoso violinist and composer Ferdinand David, a pupil of Louis Spohr.

New research by Professor Robin Stowell takes a closer look at the sonatas Mozart composed in Vienna between 1781 and 1788 in an annotated edition prepared by David, examining some of its implications principally for violin performance practice.

Robin said: “While these editions are substantially faithful and accurate with regard to note-durations and pitches, there are numerous examples where matters of phrasing, articulation and expression differ substantially from the most authoritative textual sources.

“Overall, they reveal a style of performance very different from one with which Mozart would have been familiar.”

Using David’s fingering annotations as the basis for discussion, Robin examines David’s approaches to shifting, including the use of portamento as an aesthetic resource, the cultivation of una corda playing for timbral effect, and the incidence of natural harmonics and/or open strings to assist the position change.

David’s approach to right-hand technique is also explored, including his predilection for on-the-string bowings and a range of détaché strokes (and in what would appear to modern violinists to be in an unorthodox part of the bow), his use of slurred staccato, the range and meaning of his various other bowing indications and his evident overall aim to cultivate a legato, singing style.

‘Mozart’s ‘Viennese’ Sonatas for Keyboard and Violin according to Ferdinand David: a survey of editorial and violin performance practices’ by Professor Robin Stowell appears in Mozart’s Chamber Music with Keyboard, a new volume edited by Martin Harlow and published by Cambridge University Press.