In August 2018, I began a project to learn the complete Mozart Piano Sonatas. I called it “Mozart in a Month”. Honestly, the project began with the desire to learn a major chunk of repertoire, a month at a time, and the alliteration of ‘Mozart’ and ‘month’ is all that sealed the deal. Turns out, it was one of the best decisions I could’ve made.
I built a schedule to learn one Sonata a month for 6 months in the year and then to give myself 6 months off. Mozart wrote 18 Sonatas, so it would take me 2.5 years to learn the entire cycle. I knew that I couldn’t be working on Mozart constantly- I needed some variety in my repertoire. My goal was to have a playlist of all 18 Sonatas in the month-end level standard by the end of the project.
I did not force myself to memorize each Sonata, in fact, I knew I wouldn’t get each work to a professional, performance-ready standard in 30 odd days. I wanted to get 75% of the way to performance-ready: enough that I had
a handle on all the notes, even if the technique wasn’t totally in control,
a thoughtful and artistic interpretation going,
I knew the piece with enough confidence that I could return to it in a year’s time and not be starting from scratch.
I had some strong opinions about how Mozart’s music should be played. I wanted Mozart to be alive, to jump off the page. The accompaniment patterns should be prominent, the detailed articulation, including the short phrase markings should have rhetorical meaning. As I began working through my first 6 month segment, I realized that the way I was playing Mozart was well-intentioned, but often ended up sounding harsh. In my effort to avoid sounding flimsy, I ended up sounding aggressive. Mozart still needed nuances.
The second year was better. I sought more color and variety. I acknowledged my interpretive preferences, like giving prominence to the left hand accompaniment, without bashing it over people’s ears and bringing it front and center. I sought subtle but rich details.
I finished my second segment of 6 Sonatas in January of 2020. You know what happened next. My family and I have been very blessed through the pandemic. We’ve stayed healthy, and we’ve kept our jobs. I, in fact, started a new job. Performance-wise, I initially wanted to use the lockdown to learn some “dream pieces”. I made a plan to learn a couple major romantic works, and started learning them.
But as the news of each day brought confusion and instability, I decided not to hold myself to any one thing in my practicing. I gave myself the freedom to work on whatever I felt like for as long as I felt like.
Without planning to, I ended up coming back to Mozart. I started working on the final 6 Mozart Sonatas, one or two at a time and by summer of 2020, I had learned them all. True to my standard of working at will, I did not produce month-end performances of these last 6, and I suppose I never will. But:
I can legitimately say that, given a week’s notice, I could produce a concert-artist level performance of any of the Mozart Sonatas. I finally feel confident putting “Complete (18) Mozart Sonatas” on my repertoire list.
At the beginning of 2021, I decided to go a step further.
With the Mozart in a Month project, I had wanted to explore why Mozart’s music mattered today in the 21st century. In an age where history’s baggage is often used as an excuse to throw it out altogether, I think reasserting the meaning and purpose of this music is important. Despite my own extensive work in contemporary music, why do I find Mozart’s music to be an essential part of my artistry?
So on January 27th, 2021, I began performing the complete cycle of the Mozart Sonatas on my Facebook page. About every 2 weeks, on Wednesday nights at 8 PM EST, I discuss some aspect of Mozart’s music, and through story telling, discussion and interaction, I try to share what is important and relevant in Mozart’s music. Then I perform one or two of the Sonatas.
This discussion continues on my e-mail list. If you aren’t, sign up for my mailing list today. You’ll get exclusive access to the entire archive of these Why Mozart Matters series, and be among the first to be invited to the forthcoming recitals.