Sound and Sustain, Mozart – Fantasy in D minor KV 397

Published by Paul Hoffman on

The quest for sound and sustain, finding a grand piano. Mozart – Fantasy in D minor KV 397.

When we moved to a house that could accommodate a grand piano I took my time to visit piano-shops and piano restorers ateliers.

As I was looking for that “not middle of the road” sound I always played the same piece: Mozart’s Fantasy in D minor, KV 397. Specifically the Adagio theme, how was the quality of the sound and the sustain?

Eventually I  found my Bechstein in an atelier quite nearby my home. It needed a  substantial restauration but I could hear the characteristics and the quality of its sound  immediately.
Beside that: It fitted my budget?.

Listen here to my rendition of the Fantasy:

Mozarts music is sometimes being qualified as “easy, lighthearted, casual or even shallow”. Not only by amateur listeners, even by some colleagues. Though Mozart like many other composers hás written “GelegenheitsMusik” I think people mistake ease of listening for simplicity. The Fantasy is quite an extraordinary piece anyway with movements very different in style and ambiance. It feels to me like an instrumental mini opera: ….the triplets of the overture creating a mysterious premonition and ending with what seems the opening of the curtains, dimming the light and giving the stage to this lonely painful but beautiful adagio theme…..
The fact that the Fantasy is largely in the key of D minor like Don Giovanni ads to the imagination of a drama play.
I will dedicate a future post to what some see as Mozarts “dramatic” composing style.

Was this Fantasy composed as separate work or intended to be followed by a sonata? Or maybe a fugue? At the time of composing, 1782, Mozart was exposed to the works of J.S. Bach through Baron van Swieten, who possessed quite some Bach scores. He then wrote e.g. the Prelude (Fantasy) and Fugue in C major, KV 394.
The initial title “Fantaisie d’Introduction” suggests a following piece but there is no such work we know of.
Mozart didn’t finish the Fantasy, that is: the original manuscript has not survived and what we do have lacks the last measures. Lost or never written.
Wikipedia: ”the ending as it currently exists (last 10 measures) is believed to have been written by August Eberhard Müller, one of the composer’s admirers”. Some think the ending too abrupt and argue that the D major Allegretto should have returned to D minor.
Mitsuko Uchida plays her own version of the end, indeed returning to the D minor triplets of the opening: listen here.

In my recording you will recognize the specific “intimate” Bechstein sound. The sustain however, despite the title of this post, could be better I must admit. Not only because of my sparse use of the sustainpedal.
The sustain in the discant used to be better but after repairing a crack in the cast iron frame for which a lot of strings had to be detached the soundboard somehow lost it’s balanced string tension. The good news is that slowly, slowly it’s coming back and so is the sustain.
Controlling the humidity is the medicine.


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Kees van Lent
3 years ago

Paul, wat fijn weer om jouw klassieke pianospel te mogen horen! Leuk initiatief deze “Bechstein Tapes”!
Wat betreft de Fantasy: ik geniet, ondanks dat ik niet ‘n echte mozartfan ben, hier toch van jouw mooi verzorgde interpretatie! De opname is ook heerlijk puur zo zonder editing, hoewel ik (met Elly) ook wel iets meer “room” (sustainpedal) zou waarderen.
Goed hoor dat je weer meer in je roots aan ‘t duiken bent!

3 years ago

Hoi Paul, een heerlijk muziekstukje van Mozart. Het maakt de druilerige maandagmiddag wat vrolijker.
Van mij mag je wat meer pedaal gebruiken ?, verder prachtig gespeeld, maar het einde mag wat zachter wat mij betreft. Zit je net lekker te dromen, word je abrubt “wakker geschud”. Dat had Mozart zo bedacht natuurlijk. Hartelijke groeten. Elly

Gaston Schols
3 years ago

Thank you for the invitation, always great to hear you playing… and so nice to have met you…?

Jos Bovens
3 years ago

Hi Paul,
Thanks for thinking of me to send your invitation to the Bechstein tapes. Sundaymorning is the time our familiy almost always listens to classical music. So your timing is perfect.
And by leaving this reply, I can confirm that the Bechstein tapes definitely went abroad! And I’ll spread them around here in Switzerland.
Hope to hear you again soon.

Peter Bremers
3 years ago

Heerlijk zo op de zondagmorgen !

Paul Baas
3 years ago

Hoi Paul,
Mooi initiatief! Dharmo en ik hebben vanmorgen met genoegen geluisterd naar jouw spel!
Het geluid van de piano vind ik inderdaad mooi! Maar een laptop speaker doet het helaas geen recht…
We zien elkaar gauw weer!

3 years ago

Good luck with the Bechstein tapes !

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