Danzi, Mozart: Sonatas & Variations for Fortepiano and Violin

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Here's an unusual find for anyone interested in the history of music by women in the Western concert tradition. Margarethe Danzi was a composer, singer, and pianist of the late eighteenth century, the wife of composer Franz Danzi, a student of Leopold Mozart, and a frequent associate of Wolfgang. All these relationships are recounted in copious detail (probably too copious for the average listener) in the booklet, which also includes an inexplicable photo of the performers sitting on a tractor. Composition was not Danzi's main activity, so it is all the more surprising to find that her music falls far outside the molds containing those of other female amateurs of the era -- it is obvious that she had a gift, and the listener is left wondering what might have happened if social and medical factors (Danzi died young, of a lung disease) had not curtailed her output. The date of these sonatas is uncertain, but they likely were written in the 1780s, which makes their ambitions all the more remarkable. For all her closeness to Mozart, Danzi's sonatas have a style quite different from that of Mozart's rather confectionery works in the genre. Her opening movements are spacious and rather circuitous, seemingly aiming toward the expansive sonata forms of Hummel but accomplished independently of those, and she gives hints of the Beethovenian aesthetic of embodying a composer's struggle with his or her material. In working out the balance between piano and violin (the published sonatas were designated as "pour le Piano Forte avec Violin Obligé") Danzi was both ahead of Mozart and considerably less accomplished. The violin, especially in the opening movements, often emerges from its accompanimental role with assertive statements that provide structural turning points. At other times, however, it is missing in action for long stretches, for no very discernible reason. For a composer who was probably a teenager, however, the music is extraordinary. Mozart thought highly of it, and the critic of the time who praised her works as "utterings of a soul with original thoughts and deep sentiments" had it right. Fortepianist Vaughan Schlepp and violinist Antoinette Lohmann, using original instruments, capture the youthful, rather explosive quality of Danzi's music, but the chilly, cavernous sound environment of the Dutch church where the music was recorded is all wrong, and it amplifies the tinny but unobjectionable sound of Schlepp's fortepiano (a copy of a 1785 Stein instrument) into something slightly bizarre.

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