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Epistle Sonata in C Major K263

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 - 1791)

Epistle Sonata in C Major, K263

Between 1772 and 1780 Mozart wrote 17 Church Sonatas which were also known as Epistle Sonatas. They were all written as brief interludes to link the epistle and gospel sections in the Mass, and in the case of Mozart's fully composed masses they were intended for performance between the Gloria and the Credo. Several were interpolated into Mozart's own masses, and others were composed for masses with music by other composers. The instrumentation varied to fall in line with whichever instruments were in use throughout the mass, so, for instance, there are some that are composed for solo organ, and some for strings with continuo accompaniment. Their brevity is in keeping with the compact concision of Mozart's entire masses of this period, a major reason being the precise requirements issued by the Archbishop of Salzburg, who was Mozart's employer at this time, as also he was of Mozart's father Leopold. He specifically wanted short masses and he categorically instructed that the music should not prolong the services unnecessarily. He also decreed that it should not be too heavy or academic - in other words he was instructing Mozart to write in a style that today would be termed 'accessible'! Considering the strictures under which Mozart had to compose, it is remarkable how inventive and inspired many of his Masses were, and even in the miniature little Epistle Sonatas he produced music of imagination and colour, perfectly crafted.

The C major Epistle Sonata, K263, dates from 1776 when Mozart wrote his Missa longa, K 262, named as such as it was unusually long. Presumably the Archbishop allowed it! It is a majestic Sonata, with optional parts for woodwind, trumpets and timpani.

Jon Tolansky

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