Mozart: ‘Eine Kleine Gigue’, K574  [1’39”]

András Schiff, piano

10 Mozart K574 score

Mozart’s little jig in its entirety — score readers click on image to follow in a different window

This astonishing flight of the fully mature Mozart’s musical imagination was set down in JS Bach’s Leipzig in 1789, where he took the opportunity to play his great predecessor’s Thomaskirche organ.  Indeed it may actually have been his thank you note: “17 May, in Leipzig.  A little Gigue for the piano in the commonplace book of Hr Engel, court organist to the Elector of Saxony.”  The piece thus tossed off was inspired, as the title ‘gigue’ supports, by his explorations, for the time highly unusual, of baroque counterpoint, though I for one have trouble relating it to Bach or Handel.  But then, despite The Mozart Companion‘s description of it as “utterly Mozartean”, it seems to stand apart from his own work too.  This music simply doesn’t deal in those stock devices his genius relies on manipulating and subverting with such inexhaustible variety.  Rather, it is utterly timeless, just as it seems perfectly weightless, floating without audible means of support.  Only in Tchaikovsky’s orchestration, the first movement of his Fourth Suite for orchestra (‘Mozartiana’), is it easy to detect the wires.  Though its working out must have made some call on Mozart’s ingenuity, I have a fantasy of him walking home after a night of claret and billiards and this stuff simply flying into his head fully formed.  Incredible.

For the record the piece – “whose eccentric tonal patterns,” Mozart authority HC Robbins-Landon points out, “approach twelve-note music (eleven of the twelve notes in the first two bars)” – employs three voices and, for all its futuristic character, follows the old binary model for music deriving from dance forms: opening A, repeated at 0’20”, B beginning 0’40”, repeated 1’06”.  Eric Blom, characterizing it as “freely fugal”, goes on to explain: “The [baroque] convention of turning the jig tune upside down at the beginning of the second part is retained as an extra inducement to a display of cleverness, which, as usual in Mozart, results in pure music of the most natural beauty.”  András Schiff’s gossamer-winged performance, from an excellent collection of Mozart’s variations and single-movement masterpieces, does the piece full justice perhaps precisely because of his appreciation of its timeless aspect.

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