Mozart: Violin concerto no 5 in A Major, K219, ‘Turkish’

Allegro aperto – Adagio – Allegro aperto
Rondeau – Tempo di minuetto

Mozart’s relationship with the violin began at an early age. His father Leopold (1719 – 1787) was principal violinist and deputy capelmeister in Salzburg and was known throughout Europe for his ‘Treatise on the Fundamentals of Violin Playing’ which was published in 1756, the year of Mozart’s birth.

Mozart began lessons with his father at the age of six, and being Mozart, it didn’t take long before he was playing with other musicians who introduced him to the music of Tartine and Locatelli, two of Italy’s finest composers of music for the violin.

Although the exact dates of composition of Mozart’s five violin concertos are a little unclear, it seems as if all five were composed within a single year – in 1775 when Mozart was 19!

The five concertos demonstrate a trajectory of growing assurance and mastery of the form – the first two concertos still show the influence of the Baroque and especially Italian composers such as Boccherini and Tartini, but by the time we reach the 5th concerto Mozart is in full, unhindered flow.

The outstanding feature of this concerto is its almost romantic stretching of the structures which were the standard forms of the time – Sonata form for the first movement, song form for the second and another fast allegro for the third – often in rondo form (ABACADA etc…)

The first movement opens with what appears to be the main theme (a rising arpeggio) but turns out later to be a simple accompaniment to the real theme which is introduced by the solo violin. Furthermore, when the soloist enters after the opening tutti, the tempo changes to an Adagio (very slow) – a sort of quasi improvisation passage – before returning to the fast Allegro. This is the only instance in Mozart’s concerto repertoire where an Adagio interlude of this kind appears at the soloists entry. The rest of the movement is in standard sonata form – exposition, development and recapitulation.

The second movement is in three part song form, but has no repeat markings and is remarkable in how it flows from start to finish without a break. Here again, Mozart is somehow very prescient in exploring structural expansions and modifications in a way that is reminiscent of Beethoven and the Romantic era which followed.

The third movement is the one that has the ‘Turkish’ bits which explains the nickname for this concerto. It is essentially a Rondo, marked ‘Tempo d Minuetto’ and is consequently in 3 - this is in itself is unusual. There are also no less than four mini-cadenzas in this movement corresponding to the ends of the rondo episodes. About 2/3 of the way through there is a sudden change to a fast Allegro in 2 and a raucous dance emerges complete with cellos playing ‘col legno’ (using the wood rather than the hair of the bow). This is the Turkish element and is a slightly un-PC stereotyping, but best to remember that we are  in the late 18th century…

The music returns to the Minuet theme and soon brings the concerto to an end with the same rising arpeggio theme, played piano, that began the whole concerto. Very lovely little and touching way to finish, allowing the music to drift off into the ether.

This concerto is special. It breaks the rules and conventions when the music demands it and gives the whole work an almost improvisatory feel. The themes in all the movements are utterly gorgeous, but the music of the 2nd, slow movement, stands out for its beauty and sublime serenity. Astonishing that a 19 year old could compose such music.