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.