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The Consort

Douglas Hollick

Summer 2008, Vol 64

Anton Eberl
Sonata in C minor for piano

Edition HH175, Bicester, 2007
(pbk £9.95)
ISMN 979 0 708059 27 1
ISBN 978 1 904229 96 4
available from Schott & Co.

Anton Eberl (1765-1807) was nine years younger than Mozart; he, too, was a child prodigy, and became a friend and probably a pupil of the older man. The family friendship was evidently strong, and after Mozart’s death, Eberl toured Germany with Mozart’s widow Constanze and her sister Aloysia in 1795-6. Maybe it is no surprise, then, that a number of Eberl's works were taken as being by Mozart, and Eberl himself issued protests to the press about these attributions on a number of occasions.

This sonata is one of those published a. a work of Mozart during Eberl’s three years away from Vienna working at the Russian court in St Petersburg, and in his public protest of July 1798 Eberl said ‘I can in no wise allow the musical public to remain under this delusion!’ When removed from the shadow of the great Mozart, Eberl emerges as a composer of distinction and imagination, with a style in many ways more aligned with Beethoven than with Mozart. Indeed, Eberl’s Symphony in E flat was played in the same concert as the first performance of Beethoven’s Eroica and judged the more successful of the two works! Having recently come across a superb recording of three of Eberl’s symphonies (by Concerto Köln on Teldec) I can quite understand this sentiment, as the symphony in question is indeed a fine work, with many original touches.

The C minor Sonata Op. 1 opens with an Adagio in bare octaves, looking at first sight rather similar to the opening of Mozart’s great Fantasie in the same key. However, the Eberl sonata is much more Beethovenian in its use of off-beat sforzandi, and the descending chordal figure over a repeated dominant pedal towards the end of this introduction recalls Beethoven’s Pathetique sonata, also in the same key. The energetic Allegro con moto which follows also starts with a figure in octaves, the fiery mood of the opening being moderated a little with the second subject, although even here the use of offbeat accents prevents the music from settling into a simple ‘tune and accompaniment’ mould. This is a large-scale movement of 236 bars, maintaining interest and attention throughout with varied textures and fine, idiomatic piano writing.

The Andante espressivo which follows is a beautiful, gentle contrast to the power of the first movement. Maybe this is not so imaginatively original as the first movement, but it contains many fine moments. The use of octave melodic writing in the right hand against simple accompaniment patterns in the left remind one of both Beethoven and Schubert, while the continuing use of off-beat accents for dramatic effect links it with the previous movement. The Finale in compound time is marked Allegro molto and is stylistically a little more old fashioned than the earlier movements, but nevertheless has some lovely sudden twists of harmony, for instance at bars 58-9, where downward arpeggios in A flat and B flat major turn to upward melodic figures in F major and G major respectively.

Hogwood has again produced a fine, unfussy edition with good notes, printed clearly on nice paper, and with facsimiles of the opening of the sonata from both the autograph and the inaccurate Gerstenberg edition, to allow comparison. The composer’s autograph, for a long time listed as ‘lost’, is in the Universitäts- und Stadtbibliothek Köln, and it is this copy that Hogwood has used as the basis for this edition, but with some of the extra dynamics and interpretative markings taken from the later editions, these being in brackets. The technical demands of this work are considerable - similar to some of the early to middle period Beethoven sonatas. For pianists wanting something a bit off the beaten track, this is an ideal work, which would certainly repay learning. It would best be performed on a Viennese piano of the period, or a copy thereof, but unlike those of Mozart, this sonata is unlikely to suffer much by being played on a modern piano.

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