Mozart Sonata K. 310 & Competitions

Added on by Greg Anderson.
Dear Greg,
Well I would first like to thank you for creating such a wonderful website. It looks like you've fulfilled your mission! And for sure, you are my new inspiration! So my question has to do with Mozart Sonata K 310 in a minor. I've been playing this piece for about over a year, I think. I've performed it a few times and will soon be playing this at another competition. I've received several adjudications on this, and people all seem to have different opinions! I'm especially confused about the beginning of the 1st movement. Some suggested that I pedal every quarter note, and my teacher and I decided to try it because I can bring out more of the tragic feeling that way.. but once I started doing that some adjudicators were VERY strongly against it. Could you offer me any advice on this? What do you think? Thanks!
 - PianoGirl in Canada

Dear PianoGirl,

I am very humored by your question! I played the same piece during my first year at Juilliard and dealt with the exact same issues when I performed it in competitions. It seemed that no matter how I tried to play the opening, every adjudicator objected. Should the grace note come before or on the beat? Should you pedal the eighths, half-pedal the eighths, not pedal them, connect them with your fingers, keep them dry? How loud should they be? Are they noisy, almost ugly, like a janissary band? Full of passion and drama? Should they be respectable and restrained, as if "you were playing on a fortepiano?"

Later, my teacher explained to me that "the piece is bad for competitions," because it's one of those divisive pieces with the tendency to incite strong opinions from professionals (sort of like Chopin's Barcarolle or Fourth Ballade). So I stopped playing it.

It wasn't until later that I realized how much competitions controlled my life in this manner. Nearly every decision regarding the repertoire I learned was made in deference to competitions and judges. Certain pieces, like the Mozart, were out due to their divisive nature. Other pieces were out because they weren't serious enough. Other pieces were too unfamiliar. Other pieces were too canonic (Appassionata, much?). Some pieces were dismissed because they didn't showcase enough (variety of emotions, technical challenges, etc.) in an appropriate span of time. Some pieces don't make a good impact on the audience (or judges) unless they are played in their entirety... and what if the judges didn't have time to listen to the whole piece? And I certainly couldn't play my own compositions...

In the end, you get the same old hackneyed, compact, virtuosic (but serious) competition pieces; pieces I didn't really feel like playing: Rachmaninoff's Second Sonata, Prokofiev's Seventh Sonata, and Ravel's La Valse.

Too much calculation. Too much strategy.

So I cut competitions out of my diet, and now I can play what I want, when I want. I can play a program of music composed entirely during the Classical era. I can play Chopin's Barcarolle. I can play Satie. I can mix children's pieces into my programs. I can play my own arrangements. I can construct my programs to make a statement about society. I can play music I like! Ultimately, this made me a better musician and a happier person.

Regarding the Mozart sonata: I went for dramatic effect. I never got the feeling that Mozart would have restrained himself... and a fortepiano can make a nasty racket when played in one of those old, reverberant European castles. Besides, I like playing the opening that way.

- Greg