Mozart sketchbook 8554769

Déjà Review: this review was first published in July 2003 and the recording is still available.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
London Sketchbook (1764/5)

Minuets and Contredanses
Completions of Mozart’s earliest sketches and fragments by Hans-Udo Kreuels
Hans-Udo Kreuels (piano)
Vorarlberg Conservatory Ensemble
rec. 2001, Ostereichischer Rundfunk, Voralberg, Dornbirn, Austria
Naxos 8.554769 [75]

I don’t know if you have the same reaction as I do when you hear a composer “squandering” a good tune. I’m sure you know what I mean – when a brilliant or gorgeous tune is introduced only to vanish as quickly as it appeared, never to be developed, just spiralling away into a musical “black hole”. At best I feel sad when that happens and at other times I get angry that the composer should tantalise me like that, and it’s at those times when I wish I could write music so that I could develop such tunes as are “cast-offs” by those that can.

Well if you do feel this way then I’d advise you to avoid this disc as it will be sheer purgatory for you! It is further proof (as if it were needed!) of how much of a genius Mozart was. These works were composed entirely by him (without the aid of his father who had touched up various of his very first efforts) during his 15 month stay in London at the age of 8 whilst on a 3½ year grand tour of Europe. Comprising 39 “works” these drafts and fragments show the incredible inventiveness the fledgling composer possessed. By the time the sketchbook was finished Wolfgang Amadeus had already completed several symphonies. I wonder whether any of these musical ideas make their appearance in any of them.

Whilst in London Mozart made the acquaintance of Johann Christian Bach, whose music had a deep influence on the young boy. He made much progress during this period in which he and his sister performed in front of the King and his family as well as to London’s smart set. Indeed his father Leopold wrote that “my boy knows in this his eighth year what one would expect only from a man of forty”.

Hans-Udo Kreuels, pianist, composer and teacher, has spent two decades working on this material and has performed an invaluable task in helping us to widen our view of Mozart and rescuing what would otherwise have remained a closed book to most music-lovers.

Professor Kreuels writes in the informative insert that he has completed and realised these works for the keyboard since it is that which exerted the greatest influence on them. However he does feel that some of these pieces were written for other instruments. He also writes that to complete this labour of love required “an intuitive feel for the limited attention span and sudden ‘micro’ impulses characteristic of the young child”. Those of us who are parents can understand what he’s getting at, though most of us have experienced the limited attention span of our children only in relation to games or reading or other “normal” pastimes in which they showed only transient interest. How extraordinary it must have been to watch your young son compose such works as these knowing for the most part that they were simply created to prevent boredom from taking hold. Many were apparently written at a time when his father was ill and he and his sister were forbidden to play the harpsichord.

This disc is a fascinating yet frustrating glimpse at Mozart’s unique gift. This gift enabled him to create wondrous things at any moment he pleased. He didn’t feel the need to complete these things because he knew he could conjure up others just as easily. A delightful disc nevertheless, that is sympathetically played with obvious affection for both the composer and the works.

Steve Arloff

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