What's a Sinfonia Concertante? Mozart Wrote One for Two Of His Favorite Instruments

Nov 19, 2019

Mozart played both violin and viola, and wrote his Sinfonia Concertante for those two instruments in 1779  after a trip to Paris and Mannheim, where the form was popular.  

You can hear Philadelphia Orchestra First Associate Concertmaster Juliette Kang and Principal Violist C.J. Chang, play Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante for Violin, Viola and Orchestra on The Philadelphia Orchestra In Concert broadcast on November 24th at 1 PM on WRTI 90.1.

What's a sinfonia concertante? It's a work that has elements of both a concerto and a symphony. It's similar to a concerto in that it features soloists playing with an orchestra. It's like a symphony in that the solo lines "are somewhat embedded in the orchestra," which also has "a prominent part," says soloist Juliette Kang. 

One of her favorite parts in Mozart's Sinfonia Concerntante is the tutti section before she enters. "It's a long crescendo, with a whole bunch of trills, almost chromatic. And it just builds up in this incredibly magisterial but exciting way. I could listen to it over and over again." 

Soon the violin comes in and begins its discourse with the solo viola, played by Juliette's Orchestra colleague, violist CJ Chang. The two instruments converse in a variety of moods and styles, says CJ:

"There are a lot of dialogues. Sometimes we repeat the same melodies in different register, sometimes we play together, sometimes its a cannon." 

C.J., who also has studied and played violin, suspects Mozart particularly liked playing the viola. "Sorry, Juliette," he says, laughing. "There's something very special, a very striking moment he puts in the viola part." "I actually approach it very operaticly, especially the second movement. There's a lot of singing and emotional swings.

"It can be difficult," says Juliette, "not to get lost in the sheer beauty of the work with its sublime harmonies."

"It's such a perfection of work," says C.J. "You just feel so much in awe of this piece."