Mozart’s Fantasia in D Minor: Inspired by Venice?

Mozart, by Joseph Lange

Has anyone else noticed a decidedly Venetian flavour in Mozart’s Fantasia in D Minor, K. 397? Of course there is no documentary evidence to support this, since Mozart visited Venice only briefly in 1771, just over a decade before he composed the Fantasia. Nonetheless, the reawakening of a long-dormant concept is not beyond the bounds of possibility, especially with Mozart. If one were to make a Venetian case for the Fantasia, it might go something like this (here, for reference, is a performance by Emil Gilels).

The piece opens with a series of rising arpeggios that unmistakably recall the traditional accompaniment of the barcarole, the Venetian song sung by gondoliers and boatmen. The arpeggio form mimics the ebb and flow of the tide, the rise and fall of the waters, the rocking of the boat. After this, Mozart breaks into a melancholy cantabile melody, of the kind one might readily expect a gondolier to sing at dusk or twilight. After various developments of the opening ideas, interspersed with a few bravura runs that recall a singer’s improvised cadenzas, the piece ends with a cheerful operatic flourish that one could imagine as a soprano aria, composed resolutely in the Italian style for triumphant delivery at La Fenice.

I’m working on setting some suitable 18th century lyrics to Mozart’s score. I would welcome any thoughts anyone has as to how plausible or absurd this little idea may seem.

4 thoughts on “Mozart’s Fantasia in D Minor: Inspired by Venice?

  1. As I love Mozart above and beyond any other composer, I would agree that your theory is very much possible. I am not sure that adding your work, even highly professional, to Mozart’s genius and not of this world, is acceptable, because you are just a mortal. Write your own music, and no doubt, it will be good but it could never be Mozart. He was One and Only.

    Thank you.

    Joanna

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    • The idea is simply to test the theory by fitting words by Da Ponte and other contemporaries to the melody. Though it is a keyboard piece, a lot of it contains specific “vocal” conventions. One also needs to put the piece alongside the kind of music Mozart would have heard in Venice in 1771, and also compare the melodies in the Fantasia to similar lines in his lieder and opera.

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    • I thought I’d made it clear – this is not a question of writing extra or additional music, but simply of revealing the “vocal” qualities of the piece through practical demonstration. We know enough about how Mozart worked with Da Ponte and others to be able to test my theory. This is an exercise in musicology, not creativity ☺️.

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    • A good example of the kind of thing I’m driving at is when you look at K.381, a piano sonata for four hands, you’ll notice that bars 18 and 19 of the first movement are duplicated in Susanna’s aria Voi chi sapete in The Marriage of Figaro. Mozart is never far from song in his instrumental writing.

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