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8.550438 - MOZART: Flute Quartets Nos. 1- 4
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (I 756 - 1791)
Born in Salzburg in 1756, the son of a musician who was later appointed Vice-Kapellmeister to the ruling Archbishop, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart won international fame as a child prodigy. Adolescence in Salzburg proved less satisfactory, particularly after the death of the old Archbishop and the succession of a new patron who showed much less indulgence to members of his household. Leopold Mozart had early realised the exceptional gifts of his son and had made it his business to develop them to the detriment of his own career, but father and son both understood that provincial Salzburg was far too limited in its opportunities. Eventually, in 1781, during the course of a visit to Vienna in the entourage of the Archbishop, Mozart quarrelled with his employer and secured his dismissal. The remaining ten years of his life were spent in Vienna, where he enjoyed initial success and later more variable fortune, in relative independence of his father and of a patron. He died in December 1791.
In 1777 Mozart's impatience with the limitations of Salzburg had grown to such a pitch that it seemed he must seek his fortune elsewhere. The Archbishop refused permission for Leopold Mozart and his son to travel abroad, although, of course, he was happy to accept their resignation, should they wish it. Mozart himself chose this course, while his father, with greater prudence, stayed in Salzburg, where he was Deputy Kapellmeister. The journey was to take the young musician to Augsburg, Munich, Mannheim and finally to Paris. In this he was accompanied by his mother, a woman of simpler sensitivities, who had little control over her son's wilder enthusiasms, one of which, the beginning of a romance with Aloysia Weber, a young singer in Mannheim and one of the daughters of an unimportant member of the Electoral musical establishment, proved distinctly alarming. Mozart later married a younger sister of Aloysia Weber, when eventually free of paternal control in Vienna.
'Mannheim, where the Elector Palatine had his court, had one of the best orchestras Europe had ever seen, in the words of an English visitor, Charles Burney, 'an army of generals'. Mozart and his mother reached the city on 30th October 1777 and remained there until 14th March in the following year. They were well received by Christian Cannabich, the director of the orchestra, and by the leading musicians at the Electoral court. Mozart became particularly friendly with the flautist Johann Baptist Wendling, who introduced him to the rich amateur flautist De Jean, a surgeon with the Dutch East India Company, who offered 200 gulden for three short simple concertos and a couple of flute quartets. Leopold Mozart found the news of some comfort. With this money some at least of the expenses of what he regarded as a disastrously long stay in Mannheim might be met.
The first of the commissioned quartets bears the date of 25th December 1777 and the second and third, K. 285a and K. Anh. 171 (285b), were apparently completed before 14th February the following year, when De Joan was about to leave for Paris. It seems that he had paid Mozart the sum of 96 gulden for two concertos and three quartets. In a letter to his father Mozart claims to find the task distasteful, writing for an instrument that he cannot stand, and complains that 96 gulden is less than half what he is owed: he would have expected 100, for what he had by then completed. The last we hear of the flute quartets from Mozart himself is in a letter that he wrote to his father from Nancy on 3rd October 1778, as he made his slow return home from Paris. He tells him that he has no copy of the quartets, because De Jean packed them in the wrong box, when he left for Paris, but that he will send them to Mozart later, from Mannheim. It seems probable that the Flute Quartet in A major, K. 298, was written eight years later, in Vienna in 1786. The evidence for this, in the absence of a date on the autograph, lies in the music. There are elements of an old French rondeau, 'Il a des bottes, des bottes, Bastien', used in Paisiello's opera of 1786, Le gare generose, in the Minuet and Trio of the quartet, while the theme of the first movement has some resemblance to the song An die Natur by Franz Anton Hoff meister, dating from the same period.
The flute quartets of Mozart have great clarity of form and texture and are relatively undemanding. The D major Quartet, K. 285, starts with a first subject of particular charm, contrasted with a second subject that has its own feeling of poignancy, in a tripartite sonata-form movement. The material is dramatically treated in the central development section, before the return of the first and second themes in the key of D. In the slow movement that follows the flute plays an aria in B minor, aocompanied by plucked strings. This leads to a final rondeau.
The second of the De Jean quartets, K. 285a, in G major, has a gentler first movement in which there is a little more interplay between flute and violin. The second movement is marked Tempo di Menuetto and allows the flute a great measure of homophonic support from the rest of the ensemble. The third of the group, the Quartet in C major, K. Anh. 171, again seems to fulfil reasonably well the terms of the commission, creating effects of singular beauty from apparently simple materials. The second movement is in the form of a theme and six variations. The first of these is in triplet rhythm, the second gives more prominence to the violin and the third to the cello, before the C minor fourth variation. The fifth is an Adagio and the sixth a sprightly Allegro.
The A major Quartet, K. 298, offers a true Singspiel type of theme, with four variations allowing increased activity to violin, viola and cello in turn, after the first variation, in which attention is concentrated on the flute. The movement lacks a minor variation and an Adagio. There follows a Minuet and Trio, both in D major, and a final movement jokingly inscribed by the composer as 'Rondieaoux'. To the direction Allegretto grazioso he adds the instruction 'ma non troppo presto, però non troppo adagio. Così-così con molto garbo ed espressione' (but not too fast, then not too slow. So-so, with great elegance and expression). The movement is one of simple clarity and gracious elegance.
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