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Wölfl, Joseph (1773-1812)

Trois Sonates, Opus 33


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General Information

Composer: Joseph Woelfl (a.k.a. Wölfl)

Title of the Publication: Trois Sonates

Opus: Opus 33

Composition Year: 1805

Edition Type: Urtext

Edition Number: FE017

Editor: Martijn Vromans

Languages of the Text: English, German, French, and Spanish

Paper: A4 Clairefontaine 120 gsm cream paper

Binding: Black steel wire binding

Pages/Format: Total 72 pages (including 1 full colour portrait, 12 pages introduction, 2 pages critical commentary, 50 pages with music)

Weight: 307 g

Difficulty Level: 7–8/10


As a pianist, Wölfl was Beethoven's only serious rival, even engaging in a famous piano duel with him (details in the "About the Composer" section below). Trained by Leopold, Wolfgang Amadeus, and Nannerl Mozart, Wölfl’s sonatas can best be described as “turbocharged Mozart.” With infectious virtuosity, tight form, enchanting slow movements, and impressive finales, these three sonatas are a delight to play.

This dynamic blend of influences and Wölfl’s unique style is vividly displayed in Joseph Wölfl’s Trois Sonates, Opus 33, published in 1805 by Breitkopf & Härtel, showcasing his exceptional mastery of the classical sonata form while infusing it with a virtuosic flair. These sonatas build upon the style of Mozart, yet feature an unprecedented technical brilliance that paved the way for later virtuosos like Hummel.

These sonatas highlight Wölfl’s ability to blend technical brilliance with lyrical melodies and a pure tone, resulting in compositions that are both challenging and deeply rewarding for performers and audiences alike.

Sonata I begins with a captivating question-and-answer motif that draws the listener in. The movement features an energetic first theme and intricate virtuosic passages that demonstrate Wölfl’s technical demands. The Andante con moto second movement is serene and flowing, with gentle accompaniment and rich embellishments. The final movement, a rapid perpetuum mobile, showcases continuous motion and high technical proficiency, culminating in a masterful and applause-worthy tour de force.

Sonata II offers a contrast with its alternation between somber introspection and intense Sturm und Drang. It opens with a melancholic introduction leading into a dynamic theme. The development section introduces optimistic themes, transitioning to a major key in the recapitulation, softening the initial somberness. The Andante second movement has a celestial quality, and the third movement, Alla Polacca, is a delightful rondo with dazzling embellishments and technical mastery.

Sonata III starts with a military character, featuring precise, rhythmically accented patterns. The first thematic group includes rapid scales and broken chords, emphasizing Wölfl’s technical prowess, while the second theme provides a calm contrast with a soothing melody and simple harmonies. The Andante Cantabile second movement is an ornate aria with a richly adorned melody. The playful and light-hearted Rondo finale captivates the audience with its whisper-soft, feather-light virtuosity and impressive technical passages.

About the Music

Virtuosic Brilliance: Each sonata in Wölfl’s Trois Sonates, Opus 33 exemplifies his virtuosic compositional style. These works, while not as complex as those of Clementi or Hummel, are rich in technical challenges and innovative passages. They offer pianists an excellent opportunity to showcase their technical and artistic prowess within the classical idiom, leaving audiences impressed.

Emotional Depth: The emotional range of these sonatas is notable. The lively and upbeat first sonata contrasts with the introspective and somber, yet occasionally intense Sturm und Drang elements of the second sonata, while the third sonata is characterized by its energetic and military nature. While these sonatas are primarily classical and elegant, they still possess considerable emotional depth.

Historical Significance: These sonatas provide valuable insight into the classical period’s stylistic framework in the early 19th century. Wölfl’s compositions maintain the elegance of the classical era while introducing a much higher level of virtuosity that was innovative for its time, without delving into romantic expressiveness or sentimentality.

This edition of Wölfl’s Trois Sonates, Opus 33 not only highlights the composer’s significant contributions to the piano repertoire but also emphasizes the richness found between the works of Mozart and Haydn, and those of Beethoven. The collection reaffirms Wölfl’s important role among the virtuoso composers of the late 18th century, continuing to inspire and captivate musicians and music lovers alike.

About the Composer

Joseph Johann Baptist Wölfl, born on December 24, 1773, in Salzburg, displayed prodigious musical talent from an early age. Educated by esteemed mentors such as Michael Haydn and Leopold Mozart at the prestigious *Kapellhaus*, Wölfl further honed his skills under the guidance of Maria Anna (Nannerl) Mozart. His early training set the stage for a distinguished career, leading him to perform alongside Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and establish himself as a virtuoso pianist in Vienna and beyond.

Wölfl's remarkable abilities and reputation as a formidable pianist earned him acclaim throughout Europe. His compositions, spanning piano music, chamber music, and operas, reflect a distinctive blend of technical brilliance and lyrical clarity. Known for his impressive hand spans and astonishing speed, Wölfl's style, often described as "turbocharged Mozart," captivated audiences with its infectious virtuosity and enchanting melodies. Despite being overshadowed by Beethoven's rise, Wölfl's influence persisted, paving the way for later composers like Hummel, Schubert, Mendelssohn, and Chopin. His music, characterized by a clear, classical structure and devoid of sentimentality, remains a testament to his enduring legacy in the classical music canon.

A notable highlight of Wölfl's career was his legendary duel with Ludwig van Beethoven in 1799. This competition, held in the house of Baron Raimund Wetzlar in Vienna, saw the two virtuosos improvising on themes set by each other, much to the delight of the gathered musical elite. The duel, described as an unforgettable event by eyewitnesses, showcased the contrasting styles of the two pianists—Wölfl's clear, structured virtuosity against Beethoven's powerful, emotionally charged improvisations. Though no definitive winner was declared, the duel solidified Wölfl's status as one of the most formidable pianists of his time.


  • Portrait
  • Introduction
  • Detailed analysis of the three sonatas
  • Sonata I
  • Sonata II
  • Sonata III
  • Critical commentary
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    Our paper editions are pleasing to the eye: gorgeous and heavy cream paper produced in an environmentally friendly manner. We print our albums ourselves and use pigmented ink instead of toner. Due to the ink soaking into the paper, a beautiful print is created. All our albums are bound with a steel binding spine, so the albums last a long time and stand perfectly flat on the piano.