Sierra Chamber Society Program Notes

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

[Bullet6] Viola Quintet in D Major K.593 (1790)

[Bullet6] Quartet for Oboe and Strings in F Major K.370 (1781)  

[Bullet6] String Quartet No. 6 in E flat major, K.160 (1773)

 [Bullet6] Viola Quintet in D Major K.593 (1790)

[Bullet6] String Quartet No. 13 in D minor K.173 (1773)

[Bullet6] Piano Trio in C Major, K.548 (1788)

[Bullet6] Horn Quintet in E Flat Major K.407 (1782)

[Bullet6] Preludes and Fugues for Violin, Viola and Cello K.404a

[Bullet6] Piano Quartet No. 1 in G Minor, K.478 (1785)

[Bullet6] Viola Quintet in C Major K.515 (1787)

[Bullet6] Quintet in A for Clarinet and Strings, K.581 (1789)

[Bullet6] Sonata for Piano and Violin in E Minor K.304 (1778)

[Bullet6] Quintet for Piano and Winds K.452 (1784)

[Bullet6] String Quartet No. 17 in B Flat Major K.458 "The Hunt" (1785)

[Bullet6] String Quartet in D Major, K. 575  (1789)


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

String Quartet No. 13 in D minor K. 173 (1773)

Mozart looking smug"For If I could but impress the matchless works of Mozart upon the souls of all music lovers, and particularly of the Great, so deeply and with such understanding and sensibility as that which I myself appreciate and comprehend them, the Nations would vie with one another to possess such a treasure within their walls. Prague must hold the dear fellow but reward him too; for without that, the history of great geniuses is melancholy and gives posterity little encouragement to further effort; on which account, alas, so many promising minds fall short of fulfillment. It angers me that the peerless Mozart has not yet been engaged at an imperial or royal court! Forgive me if I am carried away; but I am so fond of the man..."

Joseph Haydn (in a letter to Provinzialoberverwalter Roth in Prague, 1787)

It is rare to find in the all too human history of music two composers of the first magnitude; contemporaries, (who, had they not shared the century with Johann Sebastian Bach, could easily lay claim to being the greatest composers of the 18th Century) who held each other in high esteem, and what is more astonishing, were able to learn from one another and admit it. The D minor Quartet was the last of a set of six (K.168-173) composed by the 17 year old Mozart in Vienna during the summer of 1773. The Mozarts, father and son, had traveled to Vienna from Salzburg in hopes of finding court patronage for the young composer. A trip to Italy the previous year with the same purpose had come to naught. Vienna yielded the same result. However, during their stay in Vienna, Wolfgang had the opportunity to hear Quartets composed by Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809); specifically the Op.17 and the Op. 20 "Sun" series. Mozart was so taken with these works, that he composed, in short order, a set of six quartets in the four movement Viennese form rather than the three movement Italian form he had previously used. Both in his music and his words, he acknowledged Haydn as his master in this form of composition. However these compositions have been overshadowed, and rightly so, by his next set of Quartets; humbly dedicated to the older composer and known collectively as the "Haydn" Quartets, which in turn influenced Haydn in his subsequent quartet writing.

 

The D minor quartet is the only one of the set of six written in a minor key. The first movement is in the typical sonata-allegro form. By way of contrast the second, a graceful dance-like movement, is written in the key of D major. The key of D minor returns with the third movement menuetto. Also a dance movement, the menuetto has its Trio in the key of F major, the relative major of D minor. The finale comes as a bit of a surprise, as it takes the form of a fugue, though the model here is not Bach, but Haydn. Such contrapuntal movements can be found in those same quartets heard by young Mozart on his fateful visit to Vienna. The movement ends abruptly (as do I.)

1996-97 Season, Program II, Sunday December 15, 1996

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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Piano Trio in C Major, K.548 (1788)

The Lange Portrait17 June 1788

...The firm belief that you are my true friend and that you know me as an honorable man encourages me to open my heart to you completely and to make you the following request...If out of love and friendship for me, you would help me for 1 or 2 years with 1 or 2 thousand Guilders at a suitable rate of interest, you would be doing me the service of a lifetime! You yourself will assuredly find it sound and true that for me it is hateful, indeed, impossible, to live in dependence upon irregular earnings! - unless one has something in reserve, at least to cover necessaries, it is impossible to put order into one’s affairs- nothing can be done with nothing. If you will do me this kindness, I shall primo (being thus provided) be able to make necessary payments when they are due and therefore more easily, whereas I now continually delay and must then often pay out at once all I have received, and that at the most inconvenient moment. Secondo, I shall be able to work with an easier mind and a lighter heart, and thus earn more. As for security, I do not believe you will have any doubts! You know pretty well how I stand and are acquainted with my principles!

As for the subscriptions you need have no anxiety; I am now extending the time by a few months; I have hope of finding more supporters abroad than here....

Now I look forward eagerly to your reply - and truly, to a favorable reply; and I do not know, but I take you for a man who, like myself, when he can do so, will surely assist his friend, if he is a true friend, his brother if indeed his brother. Should you perhaps be unable to spare such a sum at once, I entreat you to lend me until tomorrow at least a couple of hundred guilders, for my landlord in the Landstrasse was so insistent that I was obliged to pay him on the spot (to avoid unpleasantness), which has greatly upset my finances....

 

Vienna, July 1788

Dearest Friend and Brother in the Order,

Amid my toils and anxieties I have brought my affairs to such a pass that I must needs raise a little money on these 2 pawnbroker’s tickets. I implore you by our friendship to do me this favor, but it must be done instantly. Forgive my importunity, but you know my circumstances. Ah, had you but done as I asked you! If you do it even now, all will go as I wish....

excerpts from two letters from Mozart to Michael Puchberg

Although five out of the six Piano Trios written by Mozart are late works, and surrounded chronologically by masterworks, they’ve not been held in the same high esteem. Cuthbert Girdlestone (I’m not making this name up!) in his classic study of Mozart’s Piano Concertos writes: "...it is hard to understand how Mozart, whilst (you’d expect someone named Cuthbert to say "whilst") working at his great symphonies (E flat major, K.543, G minor K.550, C major Jupiter K.551) in 1788 could produce such trifles as the trios in E, C, and G." Charles Rosen in The Classical Style discussing Haydn’s series of 43 Piano Trios says: "Before many of them, Mozart had already several Piano Trios in which greater independence is given to the cello, works which Haydn surely knew; but with the exception of the great E major and B flat major trios, all of Mozart’s are thinner in style and less interesting than the best dozen or sixteen of Haydn’s." C.B. Oldman in Groves Dictionary of Music and Musicians writes: "The Pianoforte Trios were mainly written for performance at private music meeting, and two at least (K.496 and K.564) were hastily adapted from works originally written for Pianoforte solo. In all of them the pianoforte, at which in all probability Mozart himself presided, has the lion’s share of the work, but modest as the function of the strings often is (particularly that of the cello) they are handled so skillfully that they often produce an effect quite out of proportion to the technical demands made upon them, as, to give but one example, at their entry in the Andante of the Trio in E (K.542). This, which Mozart wrote in 1788 for his friend Puchberg, is the most important of the set, but those in B flat (K.502) 1786, and C (K.548) 1788 are very little inferior." Note that this is the same Michael Puchberg, friend and fellow Freemason, that Mozart is trying, somewhat unsuccessfully at that, to hit up for money in the excerpts from the letters printed above. These were penned by the financially troubled Mozart at the time of composition of the E major Trio (dedicated to Puchberg) and its companion the C major Trio K.548.

The C major Trio opens with a mock-military theme reminiscent of some of his later piano concerti; music for the concert hall rather than chamber music. This movement also shares with the contemporary C major Symphony Jupiter (K.551) contrapuntal passages. Both works also share as their slow movement an Andante cantabile in 3/4 time. The third movement rondo once again brings to mind some of those wonderful closing movements of his later piano concerti. One would hardly guess from the grace and clarity of this Trio, the distress its creator was in at the time.

1996-97 Season, Program IV, Sunday April 6, 1997

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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Horn Quintet in E Flat Major K. 407 (1782)

Krafft PortraitMozart’s Horn Quintet (like Von Weber’s Clarinet Quintet featured in our last concert) was inspired by and composed for a specific instrumentalist. In this case, it was the Austrian horn player Ignaz Leutgeb. Leutgeb (or Leitgeb) was, by all accounts, an extraordinarily gifted player. He held the position of first horn in the Archbishop of Salzburg’s private band. It was here that he and Mozart became acquainted. Leutgeb later moved to Vienna where, as well as continuing as a horn player, he opened a cheese shop, partly financed, it is said, by a loan from none other than Mozart’s father, Leopold. Mozart composed his four horn concerti, a rondo, and the quintet, which he called "Das Leitgebische" for Leutgeb.

However, having Mozart’s friendship also meant suffering his pranks and practical jokes. (As it happens, all three composers represented in today’s program were notorious for their coarse humor). It is said that when Leutgeb came to Mozart to find out how his pieces were progressing, he found that Mozart had covered the floor with loose pages of music from symphonies and concertos which Leutgeb was made to arrange in correct order as Mozart continued to write music. It is also said that he once had Leutgeb crouch down behind the stove until he had finished his writing. The scores Mozart produced for his friend were peppered with what in that genteel age might pass for verbal abuse. One of the concerti bears the dedication "W.A. Mozart has taken pity on Leutgeb, ass, ox and fool, at Vienna, 27 March l783..." The horn part contains many such remarks as "Go it, Signor Asino" - "Take a little breath" - "Wretched pig" - "Thank God, here’s the end."

Despite all the crude humor at his friend’s expense, clearly, Mozart had great respect for Leutgeb’s musicianship. Of all the works written for horn by Mozart, the quintet is the most difficult, requiring the utmost in virtuosity - and thus, it remains, for today’s players as well. However, it should be noted that the horn on which Leutgeb played was a valveless horn, thus compounding the difficulties. In this work, Mozart pushed the player and instrument of his time to the limit.

Like the von Weber Clarinet Quintet, this work is also essentially a miniature concerto with the strings, a violin, two violas, and cello, serving in the main as accompaniment to the solo instrument. I say in the main because in the second movement the strings come to the fore with much of the interplay of a string quartet. This lovely intermezzo is undoubtedly motivated by practical, as well as aesthetic considerations. It provides a needed rest for the soloist from the pyrotechnics of the first and last movements. Here, Mozart had mercy on his friend where it most counted. The Quintet was completed on December 31, 1782.

1994-95 Season, Program III, Sunday January 22, 1995

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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Preludes and Fugues for Violin, Viola and Cello. K404a

With the Golden SpurBefore discussing the two works to be heard, perhaps, a few words about fugues might be in order.

The word "fugue" is derived from the Italian fuga. It means "flight", perhaps as in flight of fancy, but there is also the element of a chase.

The Harvard Dictionary of Music tells us that "the main characteristics of a fugue are (a) it is always written in contrapuntal style, i.e., with a texture consisting of a number of individual voices, usually three or four; (b) it is based on a short melody, called subject or theme, which is stated at the beginning of the fugue by one voice alone, being taken up (imitated) by the other voices in close succession and reappearing throughout the entire piece in all voices at different places..." From this point on, volumes could and have been written on how a proper fugue should proceed. What need concern us is that you need more than one voice to have a fugue. There are two-voiced fugues, as well as eight-voiced fugues. The creating of the subject theme is important, for often in a fugue the subject is made to stand on its head, played backwards, and then backwards standing on its head, simultaneously combined with the original theme. The all-time master of the fugue is Johann Sebastian Bach. In his fugues the esthetic beauty of the music is never subordinated to technical formulae. Fugue was a language most eloquently spoken by Bach, and his Well-tempered Clavier and Art of the Fugue are his greatest monuments. Composers from Chopin to Shostakovich have been inspired by and profited from their study.

 

Fugues come in a variety of flavors. There are serene, devotional fugues, lively dance-like fugues, majestic and pompous fugues, cantankerous spiky fugues (Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge) and rollicking fugues (like the orchestral showpiece from Weinberger’s opera Schwanda). There is probably not a composer who has not written one as part of musical training. The halls of musical academia are blanketed with dry-as-dust fugues...Gesundheit!

 

"Every Sunday at 12 o’clock I go to Baron van Swieten’s and nothing is played there but Bach and Handel. I am making a collection of Bach fugues - not only those of Sebastian, but also of Emanuel and Friedmann Bach."

 

This was written by Mozart to his father Leopold on April l0, 1782. The result of this activity was six Preludes and Fugues for Violin, Viola and Cello K.404a. It might at first seem surprising that Mozart was impressed by Bach’s music; after all, in Bach’s own lifetime he was viewed, as was Brahms, as a musical reactionary and relic. However, young Mozart studied with Bach’s son, Johann Christian while in London. Mozart’s only other teacher, recommended by Christian Bach, was Padre Giambattista Martini (known today only by young violinists who struggle through his little minuet). Padre Martini was one of the greatest counterpoint teachers of the l8th Century.

 

Following Bach’s example in the Well-tempered Clavier, Mozart preceded each of the Bach Fugue transcriptions with a prelude. The G Minor Fugue, which can be found in the second book of the Well-tempered Clavier is preceded by an Adagio composed by Mozart himself - though no autograph copy has been found. Some writers have suggested that his Adagio is an imperfect attempt to write in Bach’s style. I reject this assertion. With Mozart’s astonishing musical gifts, I believe he could have aped Bach’s style if he so chose. Instead, I believe he was attempting to utilize his own musical language, that of the Classical era, in constructing this Adagio. It has short phrases following one after the other like clauses, rather than those long-lined, undulating melodies characteristic of Bach’s slow movements. Both movements of the Prelude and Fugue No. 5 in C minor are by J.S. Bach. They are taken from the Organ Sonata No. 2 in C minor. This being the case, one can compare the Largo by Bach with the Adagio by Mozart.

1994-95 Season, Program I, Sunday October 2, 1994

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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Piano Quartet No. 1 in G Minor, K 478 (1785)

The Rosa PortraitMozart paid not to write music? In 1785, a Viennese music publisher and fellow Mason, Franz Anton Hoffmeister commissioned a set of three piano quartets from Mozart, for which he was given advance payment. Mozart then composed the G Minor Quartet. Hoffmeister was not pleased with the work. It was far too difficult and demanding for the amateur musicians who made up the music buying public - "Write more popularly, or else I can neither print nor pay for anything of yours!" Mozart voluntarily released Hoffmeister from the contract saying, "Then I will write nothing more, and go hungry, or may the Devil take me!" Georg Nissen (who married the composer’s widow and was one of his earliest biographers) states that Hoffmeister allowed Mozart to keep the advance payment on the condition that he would not compose the other two quartets. If this was indeed the deal, Mozart did not fully keep his part of the bargain, for later that year he composed a second Piano Quartet in E flat, K.493, though not because he had a buyer for it. However, the next year, both works were purchased and issued by the Viennese publisher Artaria.

Hoffmeister was merely a man of his time. Mozart had presented him with a work that was, to use an all too well worn phrase, truly avant-garde. Eighteenth Century music which combined keyboard with strings came in two forms. In the earlier works, the keyboard was used in a continuo capacity, filling out the bass line and playing accompanying chords. The other type of keyboard and string music was typified by the piano trio which was essentially music aimed toward amateurs for home use. The piano trio was basically a sonata for piano. The cello would give body to the piano’s weak bass notes and the violin could sustain upper register notes that quickly died away on the keyboard. Though important, the strings were nonetheless appendages. In Mozart’s conception of the piano quartet, piano and strings were equal partners in the musical discourse. Each of the players would be an important individual voice, and the three strings could play in ensemble as the orchestra part does in a piano concerto. (Although he wrote only two piano quartets, he did compose 27 piano concertos). And so, these piano quartets require virtuosity in all parts. What makes Mozart’s compositions so difficult to perform is not the number of notes, (19th and 20th Century music has inundated us with notes) although Mozart’s contemporaries thought just that. One Weimar critic remarked, "...it could not please, everyone yawned with boredom at this sea of inky notes for four instruments..." Mozart will always remain daunting to performers because in the clarity and balance of the writing, every misstep in phrasing, balance, and intonation is readily discernible. Hoffmeister was not totally wrong, it is difficult music to perform.

The work is in three movements, like a piano concerto. Mozart biographer and musicologist Eric Blom wrote of this work, "It is...a great work, worthy to stand next to the later Symphony and string Quintet in the same key. There is a passionate concentration of thematic work in the first movement as well as an originality of invention and treatment that impresses the hearer at once and never wears off with repetition..the slow movement ranks with Mozart’s most expressive B flat Major love music and the finale, in G Major, anticipates the gracious elegance of Figaro. It is a rondo that confronts the hearer with the fascinatingly unsolvable problem of telling which of its melodies, sprung on his ears with spontaneous nonchalance, is the most delicious."

1993-94 Season, Program IV, Sunday March 20, 1994

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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Viola Quintet in C Major K.515 (1787)

Mozart, not that Hulce kid!The group of string quintets with two violas are considered to be Mozart’s highest achievement in the field of chamber music. There are six such quintets (K.174, 406, 515, 516, 593, 614). They were composed at three different periods in his life, the first, K.174, when he was 17 years old. Fourteen years later, in 1787, he composed K.515 and 516, as well as K.406 (actually a reworking of a Serenade for Winds, K.388, written five years earlier.) The final two works, K.593 and 614 were written in the last year of his life. In each of these instances, he was moved to write for a quartet augmented by an additional viola after having completed a series of string quartets, as if he had reached some boundary of what the four instruments could express.

Adding a viola to the string quartet was natural one for Mozart. The viola was his favorite string instrument, and he usually played the viola part in quartets. Charles Rosen in The Classical Style writes, "His partiality may have come not only from the instrument’s sonority but from his love for rich inner part writing: in his music there was a fullness of sound and a complexity in the inner voices that had disappeared from music since the death of Bach. "Too many notes!" was the reproach cast at Mozart as it had been at Bach: it was not a sonority fashionable after about 1730, and the later Eighteenth Century preferred a drier and leaner sound." Nevertheless, the string quintet was a popular form in Mozart’s time. His contemporary, Luigi Boccherini, composed 113 quintets with 2 cellos, and 12 quintets with two violas. However, Mozart’s treatment of the ensemble differed from that of his contemporaries. In other quintets of the period, the usual practice was to treat the viola and first violin as soloists in a duet, with the remaining three members serving as a mere accompaniment.

Mozart used the addition of the viola to enrich the interaction between the parts and broaden and expand his musical conception. Rosen tells us that "with the string quintet in C K.515, and its companion in G Minor K.516, Mozart "wrote two works grander in scope than anything Haydn had ever conceived even for orchestra." He goes on to say that the first movement of the C Major Quintet is the largest ‘Sonata Allegro’ movement before Beethoven, longer than any other written by Mozart himself or Haydn. "Mozart’s principal expansion of the form takes place in the exposition which is, astonishingly, longer than any first movement exposition of Beethoven, I believe, except that of the Ninth Symphony, which it equals. Even the exposition of the Eroica is shorter."

Mozart’s mastery in pacing and proportion prevent this from being merely a long movement more suited to listing in Guinness’ Book of Records, than for listening. The other movements of this work share this spaciousness. The largeness of scale throughout the four movements is consistent. The trio of the second movement menuetto serves as a dramatic, chromatically rich episode, rather than a short interlude before the repeat of the menuetto. The slow movement, also a sonata movement, is, according to Rosen, "An operatic duet for the first violin and first viola." It even contains a cadenza for them towards the end. The finale, also a long sonata movement with characteristics of a rondo contains an abundance of both songful themes and complex contrapuntal writing.

In the C Major Quintet, Mozart has constructed a rococo palace. Through motivic, lyric and contrapuntal mastery, he has given us a work of grace, high spirits and seriousness - a work of symphonic proportions with chamber music intimacy.

The Quintet was completed on April 19, 1787.

1993-94 Season, Program II, Sunday December 12, 1993

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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 - 1791)

Quintet in A for Clarinet and Strings, K.581 (1789)

MozartThe Clarinet Quintet, the Clarinet Concerto and the Kegelstatt Trio were inspired by Mozart’s particular love of the clarinet and the artistry of his crony, the principal clarinetist of the court orchestra in Vienna, Anton Stadler. The Quintet bears the subtitle "Stadler’s Quintet." Stadler was by all accounts a rotter. He led Mozart to drinking and carousing, borrowed and stole from him (Mozart was in terrible financial shape), and generally abused their friendship in every way possible. Mozart never seemed to have resented this treatment. He respected Stadler’s musicianship so much that he never bore him any ill will.

The serenity of the music is in stark contrast to Mozart’s life at this time. Mozart had wanted to be an independent artist, free of the church and the court, yet even a composer of his genius was not able to accomplish this. For Haydn, wisdom lay in working within the system. It was for Beethoven, with his considerable promotional gifts, to achieve the status of independant artist. Mozart’s attempt was a heroic failure. Yet this music betrays none of his personal floundering.

The Quintet was completed on September 29, 1789 and the first performance took place the following December 22, at the Imperial and Royal Court Theater with, of course, Stadler as clarinetist.

1992-93 Season, Program III, Sunday December 13, 1992

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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Sonata for Piano and Violin in E Minor K.304 (1778)

The young prodigyMozart's earliest published works consist of sets of sonatas for piano and violin. Works in this genre were very popular at the end of the 18th century and were often composed and published as Haus-musik for use by amateurs. In the 18th century a professional musician was a member of the domestic staff along with gardeners, grooms, cooks and maids. Many members of the nobility, from Frederick the Great to Archduke Rudolph (Beethoven's student) were accomplished musicians, yet would be loath to have referred to themselves as professionals. They were amateurs, lovers of music, though not to be confused with dilettantes. They had access to the greatest master musicians as teachers, state of the art instruments on which to play, and time to devote to learning the craft. Their status as amateurs did not connote that of an unskilled dabbler, and a composer like Mozart who wished to become an independent artist rather than a servant (then a radical notion which even Mozart's great genius was unable to achieve) could hope to earn royalties from the publication of such works throughout Europe.

These sonatas differ markedly from the violin and piano sonatas of the 19th and 20th centuries. Here the piano dominates and the violin functions as an obbligato, providing an accompanying or ornamenting voice which often duplicates that of the piano. Not surprisingly, some of these works (including Mozart's) appear in print as piano sonatas by eliminating the violin part. This is quite different than the idiom of the 19th and 20th century sonata where the instruments are equal partners, or where the piano provides chordal accompaniment to the violin in the manner that a vocalist is accompanied by the piano in a song.

As might be expected with Mozart, he did not leave the form as he found it. In his sonatas the violin becomes more assertive and is on the way to becoming an equal partner, as in the sonatas of Beethoven, Brahms and most 20th century examples. Mozart, in his set of Six Sonatas K. 301-306 was influenced by a set of sonatas produced by the Dresden composer Joseph Schuster (1748-1812) in which the role of the violin was expanded.

Another difference between the "Piano Sonata with Violin Accompaniment" and the violin and piano sonata involves the number of movements. Mozart's species contains only two movements. Those of the 19th century usually contain 3 or 4 movements while those of our own century provide examples of one (Bloch), two (Bartok), and even five movements (Busoni).

This sonata, Mozart's only work in E minor, was written in Paris in 1778. Its mooe is more serious than that of the other sonatas in the group published with it, K.301-306. In its last movement, a minuet, there is a brief and sweet trio-like section marked dolce which nicely contrasts with its spare and somewhat darker surroundings.

1992-93 Season, Program I, Saturday September 26, 1992

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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1754-1791)

Quintet for Piano and Winds K.452 (1784)

"For my part, I consider it the best thing that I have written as yet in all my life. It has met with extraordinary success." (Mozart in a letter to his father written on April 10, 1784 regarding his Quintet.)

The year 1784 saw the beginning of Mozart’s preoccupation with the piano concerto. In the next two years he would produce no less than twelve masterworks in the genre. Between February 9th and April 12, 1784 he completed four piano concertos: February 9th #14 K449, March 15th #15 K450, March 22nd #16 K451, and April 12th #17 K453. The Quintet K452 was composed in the weeks between the completion of the sixteenth and seventeenth piano concertos. The work was premiered at one of Mozart's subscription concerts in the Vienna Burgtheater on April 1 along with the piano concertos K450 and K451. Though the combination of piano, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn was unprecedented, in this work Mozart set a standard which has been imitated (by Beethoven in his Opus 16, among others) but not surpassed. The piano had often been teamed with strings but rarely with wind, for wind instruments (apart from the flute) were generally not admitted to the refined world where chamber music was cultivated. While the piano writing is indeed related to these concertos, it should be said that the writing for wind instruments in the quintet influenced the use of wind instruments in the orchestra of the subsequent concertos. They are no longer the "ad-lib" parts they were in the earlier concertos. They are now on equal footing with the strings. The special capabilities of the winds led Mozart to develop an idiom that utilized them, using techniques that are closely akin to those of the concertos. The dialogue in the stately slow introduction of the first movement is an example of this. The piano is first set against the winds, then patterns of phrase and texture are created to develop tension. In the main Allegro the themes are short-breathed and expressed so as to ripen the array of instrumental color. In the Largetto the effect is similar, sometimes with the piano as an equal partner, sometimes as accompanist. The final Allegretto is a candid sonata-rondo peaking in a skillful cadenza in which all the instruments participate.

In his classic book on the piano concertos, Cuthbert Girdlestone writes: "The Twelfth Concerto was finished on March 22nd. Mozart then turned to a quintet for piano and wind instruments. This work, whose inspiration is close to that of many other of his B Flat compositions, has also the self assurance and grace of the Concerto in B Flat, K450; it is a piece of ‘Society Music’ written ‘half for his public, half for himself,’ and in a composite style related to the concertos, its contemporaries in its piano part and its wind writing, to the great serenades of earlier years. As a whole, it has concertante character; the protagonists come to the fore each one in turn and pass their themes from one to the other with a generosity that reminds us more of the Divertimento for String Trio K563 than of the severe style of the Quartets. The presence of a theme from K450 in its first movement and in the rondo of an obbligato cadenza in which everyone takes part, shows how near to the work is to the concertos: at this moment, Mozart is so much the ‘fashionable virtuoso’ and is so full of his public that, even when he composes chamber music, he still thinks in terms of his favorite genre."

1991-92 Season, Program II, Sunday December 15, 1991

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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1754-1791)

String Quartet No. 17 in B Flat Major K. 458 "The Hunt" (1785)

 

Vienna, 16 February 1785

"On Saturday Herr Joseph Haydn and the two Baron Tinti visited us. The new quartets were played, but only the 3 new ones, which he has composed in addition to the other three, which we already have - it is true that they are a little easier (this has also been translated as "lighter," rather than "easier") but most excellently composed. Herr Haydn said to me: "I say to you before God, on my word of honor, your son is the greatest composer whom I know personally or by name; he has taste and the greatest skill in composition as well. ..." (Letter from Leopold Mozart to his daughter Nanneri.)

The B Flat Major K. 458 was one of these three quartets played on this occasion. It is one of six quartets which have come to be known as the "Haydn Quartets." Some months later, Mozart sent the manuscripts of these quartets to Haydn with the accompanying letter.

 

Vienna, 1 September 1785

"To my dear friend Haydn.

A father who had decided to send out his sons into the great world thought it was his duty to entrust them to the protection and guidance of a man who was very celebrated at the time and who, moreover, happened to be his best friend..

 

In like manner I send my six sons to you, most celebrated and very dear friend. They are, indeed, the fruit of a long and laborious study; but the hope which many friends have given me that this toil will be in some degree regarded, encourages and flatters me with the thought that these children may some day prove a source of consolation to me.

 

During your last stay in this capital you yourself, my very dear friend, expressed to me your approval of these compositions. Your good opinion encourages me to offer them to you and leads me to hope that you will not consider them unworthy of your favor. Please, then, receive them kindly and be to them a father, guide and friend!

 

From this moment I surrender to you all my rights over them. I entreat you, however, to be indulgent to those faults which may have escaped a father’s indulgent eye, and in spite of them to continue your generous friendship toward one who so highly appreciates it. Meanwhile, I remain with all my heart, dearest friend, your most sincere friend.

 

W.A. Mozart."

Mozart had been profoundly impressed by Haydn’s set of six quartets Opus 33 published in 1781. Inspired by these works, he returned to the writing of string quartets after a lapse of ten years. It was between 1782 and 1785 that the six "Haydn" quartets were composed. As musicologist Alfred Einstein says, "Mozart did not allow himself to be overcome. This time he learned as a master from a master; he did not imitate, he yielded nothing of his own personality." He followed Haydn’s lead in conceiving the string quartet as a four part discourse, shared by all the instruments. Their respect and admiration being mutual, Haydn was, in turn, to be influenced in his own subsequent quartets by these quartets of Mozart dedicated to him.

The "Hunt" Quartet opens the second half of the set. It is probably the most relaxed of the six. The subtitle "hunt" comes from the opening theme of the first movement which is said to resemble a hunting song or the calls of hunting horns.

1991-92 Season, Program I, Sunday October 6, 1991

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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Viola Quintet in D Major K.593 (1790)

Vienna, 20 February 1790

"...I entreat you, dearest friend, to send me a few Ducats if you are able, only for a day or two, for the matter is one that will not brook delay, but must be settled instantly."

Mozart to Michael Puchberg

The D Major Viola Quintet, so named because the basic string quartet is here augmented by an additional viola, rather than another cello, was the next-to-last work in this medium composed by Mozart. The viola was, incidentally, Mozart’s favored stringed instrument, when he performed in chamber music ensembles.

This masterful work dates from a particularly difficult time in the composer’s soon-to-be-ended life. Mozart was perennially broke. His letters to friends, especially fellow Mason Michael Puchberg, reveal him constantly begging for money. By his own admission, Mozart’s attempts at securing subscribers to concerts of his music were failures; his inability to secure a lucrative post, as well as his wife Constanza’s constant illnesses, put him under such stress that for the first time in his life his seemingly inexhaustible creative spring seemed to him to have dried up. Unfortunately, in his dream of being an independent artist, he was ahead of his time. His friend Haydn, a generation older than he, resigned himself to being part of the livery; a servant despite his genius, yet secure. Beethoven, who some years later would become the epitome of the independent creative artist, possessed great creativity in marketing and self-promotion, as well as music. He had no compunction about finagling and cheating his various publishers when the opportunity presented itself. His marketing skills included bullying, cajoling, groveling, and guilt-tripping his noble patrons into believing that they owed it to his genius to support him, scoldingly reminding them of the fate of poor Mozart.

Mozart possessed neither the pragmatism of Haydn nor the bulldozing salesmanship of Beethoven. As for his creative spring drying up, though the number of compositions he produced during 1789-90 fell far short of his usual output, what composer would not settle for having produced both Cosi Fan Tutti and the D Major Viola Quintet in the same year! Both of these works dazzle the listener by the sheer beauty of their sound, yet neither betray the despair of their creator. The Quintet abounds in the same joyous contrapuntal mastery that informs the Jupiter Symphony and other of Mozart’s late works. The D Major Quintet, as well as the E Flat Quintet K.614, were published posthumously in 1793. It is unclear whether either of these works was commissioned. In his Guide to Chamber Music, Melvin Berger states that "...it is not certain for whom they were written. The newspaper announcement at the time said that they were composed ‘at the earnest solicitation of a musical friend’, and the music itself is inscribed ‘Composto per un Amatore Ongarese’ (Composed for a Hungarian Amateur). After Mozart’s death, his widow, Constanze, offered the opinion that they were written for Johann Tost, a wealthy cloth merchant and excellent amateur violist of Hungarian extraction, who had commissioned a number of string quartets from Haydn at about the same time."

1996-97 Season, Program V, Sunday June 1, 1997

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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

String Quartet No. 6 in E flat major, K.160 (1773)

"You know that I am, so to speak, swallowed up in music, that I am busy with it all day - speculating, studying, considering."

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

That Köechel ("K") number is a dead giveaway, this is an early work. However, keep in mind that this quartet was preceded by 159 works, including operas and some 28 symphonies. The E flat major quartet was actually Mozart’s seventh, and the last of a set of six composed by the sixteen year old, during a trip he and his father Leopold made to Italy in the autumn of 1772. The Mozarts had traveled to Milan as a result of a commission by the Milanese for an opera . The commission was fulfilled by the composition of the opera seria Lucio Silla. Premiered on Dec. 26, 1772, the opera was a great success, with more than twenty performances to enthusiastic audiences, SRO.

K.160 is composed in the "Italian Style," and like the others in the set, is influenced by the work of Milanese composer Giovanni Battista Sammartini (1698- 1775). In this three movement work, like all early string quartets, there is not the equality among all the players that would become the ideal in the later development of this medium; the first violin here has the most to say, with the other three instruments providing an accompaniment and minor commentary. Mozart had not yet become familiar with the quartets of Haydn. Those would change forever his approach to quartet writing. (Haydn, in turn, would be influenced by Mozart’s quartets, both men admiring and profiting from each others work). Though started in Milan, the quartet was completed when father and son returned to Salzburg in March of 1773. In a matter of months, Mozart would be exposed to the quartets of Haydn, and as they say, the rest is history.

1997-98 Season, Program IV, Sunday April 19, 1998

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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791)

Quartet for Oboe and Strings in F Major K.370 (1781)

Mozart’s Quartet for Oboe and Strings was composed in Munich where, at the invitation of the Elector Carl Theodor, Mozart was given the honor of composing the grand opera for the Carnival of 1781. While it was certainly a great opportunity for the young composer, any opportunity for Mozart to leave Salzburg, where he was then in the employ, and under the thumb, of the Archbishop Collerado was more than welcome. (He managed to stretch a six-week leave of absence to four months.)

Once again we plunder Grove’s for the following. "But while he was in the full enjoyment of the pleasures of the Carnival, into which he plunged as soon as his labours were over, he suddenly received a summons from the archbishop to join him in Vienna…His first experiences in the Austrian capital were not encouraging. He was made to live with the archbishop’s household and dine at the servants’ table - treatment in striking contrast to that he received from the aristocracy in general. The archbishop liked the prestige of appearing in society with Mozart, Ceccarelli and Brunetti as his domestic virtuosi, but did not allow Mozart either to play alone in any house but his own or to give a concert. He was obliged however, to yield to the entreaties of the nobility and allow him to appear at the concert of the Tonkünstler-Societät. ‘I am so happy’, Mozart exclaimed beforehand, and wrote to his father afterwards of his great success. At the archbishop’s private concert, too, he excited the greatest enthusiasm, though he was often addressed in that very house as Gassenbube (street urchin). It was useless for his father to urge him to forbearance: he was determined not to remain in a position where he had such indignities to endure. The opportunity came only too soon. The archbishop detested by the nobility and above all by the Emperor Joseph, did not receive an invitation to Laxenburg, the summer residence of the court, and in his disgust determined to leave Vienna. The household was to start first, but Mozart, ‘the villain, the low fellow’, was turned out of the house before the others. He took lodgings with the Webers, (his future In-laws) who were living in the Petersplatz at a house called "zum Auges Gottes". At his next audience he was greeted with Lump, Lausbube, and Fex (untranslatable terms of abuse). ‘None of his servants treated him so badly’, continued the archbishop. ‘Your Grace is dissatisfied with me then?’ said Mozart. ‘What! you dare to use threats?’ (Using all the time the contemptuous "Er"). ‘Fex! There is the door; I will have nothing more to do with such a vile wretch’ (elenden Bube). ‘Nor I with you’, retorted Mozart, and turned on his heel. Not having received an answer to his application for discharge, Mozart drew up a fresh memorial, with which he presented himself in the ante-chamber of this prince of the church; but as a culmination to all the brutal treatment he had already received, Count Arco, the high- steward, addressed him as Flegel (boor), Bursch (fellow), etc., and kicked him out of the room. Mozart was now free, though he had not received his formal dismissal. ‘I will never have anything more to do with Salzburg’, he wrote to his father. ‘I hate the archbishop almost to fury’.

Mozart fulfilled his commission with the opera seria Idomeneo, re di Creta which proved to be a great success and established him as a composer of dramatic music. In addition, this commission afforded him the opportunity of having his work performed by the singers and instrumentalists of the illustrious Mannheim Orchestra (not to be confused with Mannheim Steamroller), then Europe’s finest, who were also in Munich. The Oboe Quartet was written for the Mannheim oboist Friedrich Ramm. Mozart’s earlier Oboe Concerto, K.314 was already known as "Mr. Ramm’s showpiece". Both Ramm’s virtuosity and improvements in instrument design are displayed in the Oboe Quartet, especially in Mozart’s use of the "High F", which rarely appeared in music of that period - similar in effect to a vocal tenor’s hitting a "High C". Parallels with vocal music are to be found in the Oboe Quartet; rather than unfolding in the manner of a string quartet with independent part writing, each of the movements resemble opera arias, with the oboe singing the melody and the strings accompanying. Indeed, this type of quartet was known as a ‘Quatour d’Airs dialogues’ and could be put together from popular songs, folksongs, and opera arias, as Mozart did in his Flute Quartet K.298. In a footnote to his article on Mozart, previously quoted, the author (C.B. Oldman, M.A., F.S.A., Hon. Mus. Doc. Edinburgh) writes: "The poignant little Adagio (which clocks in at just over 3 minutes) of the oboe quartet is nevertheless a remarkable example of Mozart’s genius for saying as much as possible in the smallest possible space." Quite unlike these program notes. Fex.

1998-1999 Season, Program V, Sunday June 6, 1999

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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Viola Quintet in D Major K.593 (1790)

Vienna, 20 February 1790

"...I entreat you, dearest friend, to send me a few Ducats if you are able, only for a day or two, for the matter is one that will not brook delay, but must be settled instantly."

Mozart to Michael Puchberg

The group of string quintets with two violas are considered to be Mozart’s highest achievement in the field of chamber music. There are six such quintets (K.174, 406, 515, 516, 593, and 614). They were composed at three different periods in his life. The first, K.174, when he was 17 years old. Fourteen years later in 1787, he composed K.515 and 516, K.406 is actually a reworking of a serenade for winds (K.388) written five years earlier. The final two works K.593 and 614 were written in the last year of his life. In each of these instances, Mozart was moved to write for a quartet augmented by an additional viola after having completed a series of string quartets. It is as if he had reached some boundary of what the four instruments could express.

The choice of an additional viola to the string quartet was a natural one for Mozart. The viola was his favorite stringed instrument, and he often played the viola part in quartets. Charles Rosen in The Classical Style writes; "his partiality may have come not only from the instrument’s sonority, but from his love for rich inner-part writing: in his music there was a fullness of sound and a complexity in the inner voices that had disappeared from music since the death of Bach. ‘Too many notes’ was the reproach cast at Mozart as it had been at Bach: it was not a sonority fashionable after about 1730, and the later Eighteeneth Century preferred a drier and leaner sound."

Nevertheless, the string quintet was a far from neglected form in Mozart’s time. His contemporary Luigi Boccherini composed 113 quintets with 2 cellos, and 12 quintets with two violas. However, Mozart’s treatment of the ensemble differed from that of his contemporaries. In other quintets of the period, the usual practice was to treat the viola and first violin as soloists in a duet, with the remaining three members of the ensemble functioning as an accompaniment.

The Quintet in D Major (K.593) dates from a particularly difficult time in the composer’s soon-to-be-ended life. Mozart was perennially broke. His letters to friends, especially fellow Mason Michael Puchberg, reveal him constantly begging for money. By his own admission, Mozart’s attempts at securing subscribers to concerts of his music were failures; his inability to secure a lucrative post, as well as his wife Constanza’s constant illnesses, put him under such stress that for the first time in his life his seemingly inexhaustible creative spring seemed to him to have dried up. Unfortunately, in his dream of being an independent artist, he was ahead of his time. His friend Haydn, a generation older than he, resigned himself to being part of the livery; a servant despite his genius, yet secure. Beethoven, who some years later would become the epitome of the independent creative artist, possessed great creativity in marketing and self-promotion, as well as music. He had no compunction about finagling and cheating his various publishers when the opportunity presented itself. His marketing skills included bullying, cajoling, groveling, and guilt-tripping his noble patrons into believing that they owed it to his genius to support him, scoldingly reminding them of the fate of poor Mozart.

Mozart possessed neither the pragmatism of Haydn nor the bulldozing salesmanship of Beethoven. As for his creative spring drying up, though the number of compositions he produced during 1789-90 fell far short of his usual output, what composer would not settle for having produced both Cosi Fan Tutti and the D Major Viola Quintet in the same year! Both of these works dazzle the listener by the sheer beauty of their sound, yet neither betray the despair of their creator. The Quintet abounds in the same joyous contrapuntal mastery that informs the Jupiter Symphony and other of Mozart’s late works. The D Major Quintet, as well as the E Flat Quintet K.614, were published posthumously in 1793. It is unclear whether either of these works was commissioned. In his Guide to Chamber Music, Melvin Berger states that "...it is not certain for whom they were written. The newspaper announcement at the time said that they were composed ‘at the earnest solicitation of a musical friend’, and the music itself is inscribed ‘Composto per un Amatore Ongarese’ (Composed for a Hungarian Amateur). After Mozart’s death, his widow, Constanze, offered the opinion that they were written for Johann Tost, a wealthy cloth merchant and excellent amateur violist of Hungarian extraction, who had commissioned a number of string quartets from Haydn at about the same time."

1998-1999 Season, Program I , Sunday October 11, 1998


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

String Quartet in D Major, K. 575  (1789)

 Vienna, 12 July 1789  

“…God! I am in a situation in which I would not wish to see my worst enemy; and if you forsake me, my dearest friend and brother, I am lost – by my misfortune, not my fault – and my poor wife and child as well…. I need scarce repeat to you that this unhappy illness [of Konstanze] is impeding all my efforts to earn money; but what I must tell you is that despite my wretched circumstances I resolved to give subscription concerts in my house… but in that too, I have failed; fate is alas so unfriendly to me, though only in Vienna, that I can earn nothing whatever I do; 14 days ago I sent round a list, and the one and only name it bears is Swieten  [Baron van Swieten, one of Mozart’s chief supporters in Vienna] ….Since now it appears that the health of my dear little wife is improving daily, I should nevertheless have been able to set to work again, if this blow, this new heavy blow, had not fallen….Meanwhile I am writing 6 easy piano sonatas for princess Friederika and 6 quartets for the King [both commissions from Berlin].

…Only reflect that without your support, your friend and brother will lose his honour, his tranquillity and perhaps his life...”

 from a letter from Mozart to Michael Puchberg

The story goes that in April of 1789, Mozart accompanied Prince Lichnowsky on a tour of Dresden, Leipzig and finally Berlin. Mozart hoped this would be a moneymaking proposition in the form of cash and commissions. Alas, his expenditures far outweighed any income, and so from a financial point of view the tour was a bust. By May he was in Berlin, where he was received by the King of Prussia, Friedrich Wilhelm II. The King was a music lover, and an able cellist. He therefore commissioned a set of six quartets from Mozart, (for some reason, it became the norm for quartets to be written and published in groups of six) and while he was at it also commissioned a set of six piano sonatas for his daughter Princess Friederika. Upon his return to Vienna in June, we find Mozart in the depressed and anguished state reflected in the above letter. As it turns out, he never completed the commission. He composed only 3 quartets and 1 piano sonata. The first, in D Major, K.575 was composed in June; the date of its completion not recorded. Such was his state that this usually prolific composer did not even start the other two existing quartets of this set until a year later. Though Friederich Wilhelm II did not receive them, the 3 quartets are known collectively as the “Prussian” or “King of Prussia.” Mozart wound up selling them to his publisher Artaria for what he termed spottgeld (pocket change). They were not issued until after his death.

No greater contrast can be found between the state of mind of the composer at the time of the creation of this work with the work itself. The quartet contains no outpouring of the soul, sturm und drang, or high drama. Instead we have a work of grace, serenity and deceptive simplicity, reminiscent of, say, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. Mozart the professional knew that personal expression and complication was not what was called for here. What was called for was a prominent part for the cello, as that was the King’s instrument. And prominent it is, for this quartet sometimes bears the subtitle “Cello”. For those who need to know: the first movement is in sonata-allegro form. The second movement is in ABA form with cello again figuring prominently. The third, a graceful minuet with a trio that showcases the cello in its upper register. The lively finale opens with melody again given to the cello (as Mr. Brooks said, “It’s good to be the King”), with much interplay by the other instruments. K. 575 was given its first performance in Mozart’s home on May 22, 1790. On these occasions, Amadeus usually took the viola part, as he had a particular fondness for that instrument.

It is interesting to note that in the Age of Enlightenment, music was a course of study appropriate to Rulers. Today, to judge by its place in our public education, we consider it important to no one. One can only imagine our current head of state trying to stuff a cello under his chin. 

 1 Gal, Hans The Musician’s World – Great Composers in their Letters. Arco Publishing Co. N.Y.1966

2000-2001 Season, Program V, Sunday May 20, 2001

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