W. A. Mozart: Fantasia in D minor for Piano

Paradoxes of Style and Interpretation or Fantasies about the Fantasia


Genre definition, history, goals, stylistic and interpretation issues;
paradoxicality as a main reason for interpretation challenges

The Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians defines the genre of fantasia in music as “a piece of instrumental music owning no restriction of formal construction, but the direct product of the composer’s impulse.”1

This definition applies perfectly to the work I am going to analyze in this article: Mozart’s Fantasia in D minor for piano (hereinafter referred to as “the Fantasia”), in my opinion, one of the greatest masterpieces of Mozart’s late period. This music has always been the best companion to my life: when I feel sad or lonely, I start playing it or just listen to it in my mind. In my understanding of this music, I have been through several different stages. For the first time, I played it when I was a school-age student; then when I was a college student; then when I became a teacher and worked on this piece with my students; and now I play it as a mature musician and still find something I can learn from it. What this means is that this music is an inexhaustible source of learning about human life in all its different, sometimes opposite appearances (which are reflected in two major parts of the Fantasia – the D minor and D Major sections). This music is a continuous source of enjoyment, a faithful friend and a powerful consolation for my soul and brings about a great deal of contemplation of both the sense and the essence of human feelings and life.

Analysis of the Fantasia is a broad topic that cannot be covered in one paper. In this article, I will focus on one of many possible aspects of analysis – on interpretation of the Fantasia with emphasis on tempo realization that is the most challenging aspect of interpretation of Mozart’s piano music and, specifically, the Fantasia. In addition, by writing this article, I would like to bring the reader’s attention specifically to the idea by which I was recently struck while asking myself – why is this piece so eternally and amazingly expressive? Then the answer suddenly came – because of the paradoxicality of it in many different aspects. This is another reason why we can constantly learn from it, and the tempo problem is just one of those that still need to be thoughtfully considered and solved.

The analysis presented in this article is based on interpretation of the Fantasia 1) by different pianists through comparison of several different recordings available to me and 2) by different editors through comparison of several music scores available to me. Observing different interpretations of this music, I reserve the right to express my own understanding and personal opinionondifferent aspects of musical interpretation. I will also need to consider some structural, stylistic and genre characteristics, which might support the interpretive decisions.

Surprisingly, I found just a few available critical materials (books, articles, etc.) that could be the sources helpful in my effort to write about interpretation of the Fantasia. My research results actually ended in one source I could appeal to – Michael Davidson’s book (see below). This, I believe, gives me some freedom and opens a wide door for my own “fantasies” about the Fantasia.

There are also just a few editions of music scores available for pianists and especially for young pianists. The reason is clearly expressed in the following statement by Michael Davidson: “Teachers must be wary of giving this highly individual piece to students who are too young [italicized - S.G.]. The player should be able to comprehend the wide spiritual range of the fantasy.”2 I agree implicitly with the last statement. Yet, the editor of the score that includes the Fantasia expresses a different opinion. He thinks that “this excellent work is much simpler [?] than it looks and sounds.”3 This odd statement made me think of just the opposite idea, namely – this unique piece is much harder than it looks and sounds – and I am going to prove this paradoxical statement in my article. (This should also explain why majority of piano teachers – indeed - avoid giving this piece to their students to perform before they reach an advanced level.)

» Next: Stylistic, Structural and Genre Paradoxes in the Fantasia


1 Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Vol. 3, p. 16. London-New York, 1954.

2 Michael Davidson. “Mozart and the Pianist: a Guide for Performers and Teachers to Mozart’s Major Works for Solo Piano”. 2nd edition, Kahn & Averill, London, 2001, p. 232.

3Mozart’s 21 of Most Popular Pieces for the Piano”. Alfred Masterwork Editions.

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