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Anyone looking for a window into Mozart's soul should look no further than his vast output of sonatas. Over his short life, he composed 18 numbered piano sonatas, sonatas for four hands, 36 violin sonatas, and 17 Church Sonatas, as well as trio sonatas for chamber instruments.
He composed his first piano sonata at the age of 18 in 1774 and this rollicking classical tune was merely a signpost as to what was to come until he wrote his last sonata in 1789. While many of the sonatas sound dainty and cheerful, they're actually pretty fiendish to play.
As well as sounding great, each sonata offers a little window into the composer's character. As many of them began their life as improvisations, it's easy to imagine the young man sitting down at the piano and tinkling the ivories to create wonderfully inventive music. He pushes the boundaries smilingly without breaking them, sticking to classical conventions while adding in an occasional hint of mischief.
Charles Ives pigeonholed Mozart's piano sonatas as 'lady finger music', and yes, the music is delicate and twinkly at points. If you're expecting the stormy emotional depths of Beethoven's music, Mozart's earlier piano sonatas might not be for you, but why not give his other instrumental sonatas a chance?
His Church Sonatas are nowhere near as well known as his piano music, and often feature a more orchestral scoring including timpani, trumpets, horns, and oboes, as well as organ and strings. They were composed between 1772 and 1780, intended for insertion within a musical Mass setting, and sound much more similar to his religious choral works - the pulsing strings and long held organ notes wouldn't be suited to the piano.
Combining the best moments of the zippy virtuosity required in his piano sonatas, and his spirited string writing, Mozart's Violin Sonatas map an interesting course through his musical development. He wrote his first set between 1762 and 1764 when he was just 6 years old. Granted, they're not his finest works, and sound a little like musical studies rather than compositions in their own right, but by the age of 22, he was composing the first of his 'mature' sonatas. He's got the hang of weaving the violin tune in with the keyboard line, and captures the spirit of each instrument with his trademark charm. He composed his last violin sonata, No. 36 in F, in 1788, before he died in 1791.