Rondo in C Major

for Violin and Orchestra, K. 373, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Mozart’s Rondo á la Turk has a unique character because he used what European composers called the “Turkish Style.” This means that Mozart drew on the musical character of Turkish military, or Jannisary bands. These groups and their marches were familiar to most Europeans, and anything Turkish was different, exotic, and endlessly popular for the eighteenth-century Viennese. Composers incorporated the sounds of these bands into their orchestral music by using extra percussion instruments (bass drum, triangle and cymbals), and the piccolo to mimic the high-pitched zurna, all instruments traditionally used in Janissary music.

In this piece for solo piano, Mozart mimicked the sounds of an entire Turkish military band by using quick tempos, repeated notes, wide contrasts of loud and soft dynamics, and exaggerated grace notes. For pianists in Mozart’s time, this piece would have been particularly evocative of Turkish military music because the type of piano used was constructed differently from the modern piano; when low notes were played loudly, the vibrations of the strings would produce an audible rattle, which could sound like added percussion. The craze for Turkish music was at its height in the nineteenth century, when manufacturers began selling pianos with a special “Turkish stop,” or a pedal that the performer could press with a foot during performance; this would cause various effects (cymbals, bells, or even a bass drum). This added feature on the piano became especially associated with performances of Mozart’s rondo.

Mozart composed this short piece during his first years in Vienna, and it quickly became one of the most popular pieces for solo piano. You just might recognize the tune of the third movement!

The ISO’s last performance of Rondo in C Major for Violin and Orchestra, K. 373 was October 2010, performed and conducted by Itzhak Perlman.

© Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, 2016.

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