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8.553103 - MOZART: String Quintets, K. 174 and K. 515
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 - 1791)
String Quintets Vol. 1
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in Salzburg in 1756, the son of a court musician who, in the year of his youngest child's birth, published an influential book on violin-playing. Leopold Mozart rose to occupy the position of Vice-Kapellmeister to the Archbishop of Salzburg, but sacrificed his own creative career to that of his son, in whom he detected early signs of precocious genius. With the indulgence of his patron, he was able to undertake extended concert tours of Europe in which his son and his elder daughter Nannerl were able to astonish audiences. The boy played both the keyboard and the violin and could improvise and soon write down his own compositions.
Childhood that had brought Mozart signal success was followed by a less satisfactory period of adolescence largely in Salzburg, under the patronage of a new and less sympathetic Archbishop. Like his father, Mozart found opportunities far too limited at home, while chances of travel were now restricted. In 1777, when leave of absence was not granted, he gave up employment in Salzburg to seek a future elsewhere, but neither Mannheim nor Paris, both musical centres of some importance, had anything for him. His Mannheim connections, however, brought a commission for an opera in Munich in 1781, but after its successful staging he was summoned by his patron to Vienna. There his dissatisfaction with his position resulted in a quarrel with the Archbishop and dismissal from his service.
The last ten years of Mozart's life were spent in Vienna in precarious independence of both patron and immediate paternal advice, a situation aggravated by an imprudent marriage. Initial success in the opera-house and as a performer was followed, as the decade went on, by increasing financial difficulties. By the time of his death in December 1791, however, his fortunes seemed about to change for the better, with the success of the German opera The Magic Flute, and the possibility of increased patronage.
The first of Mozart's string quintets, the Quintet in B flat major, K. 174, was written in 1773. On 13th March he and his father had returned to Salzburg after a successful journey to Italy, the third they had undertaken and the last they were able to enjoy. There he had fulfilled a commission to write his opera Lucio Silla for Milan and had composed six string quartets. Salzburg, however, proved now less congenial, with the accession of Archbishop Hieronymus von Colloredo, a nobleman of progressive ideas but more exacting standards from his court than his predecessor. Michael Haydn, younger brother of Joseph Haydn, Kapellmeister at Esterháiza and Konzertmeister at this time of the Salzburg court orchestra, had in February written the first of his string quintets. Haydn's example seems to have inspired Mozart to attempt a similar form. In December he revised two of the movements, the Trio and the Finale.
The quintet opens with a first violin melody, accompanied by quavers dynamically contrasted from second violin and viola and a simpler cello part, described in the score as basso, thus leaving open other possible interpretations of the instrumentation intended. The first violin theme is at once repeated by the first viola, before the first violin is allowed to lead the way to a second subject, in which the second violin joins, echoing each other in the final section of the exposition. All unite in the opening of the central development and triplet rhythms, with interplay between the instruments, precede the final recapitulation in which the second subject is now presented by first violin and first viola. Muted strings are used in the E flat major Adagio, the first violin melody accompanied by the opening figure of the movement, which returns in the brief coda. The original key is restored in the Menuetto, while the second version of the Trio offers an echo effect lacking from the earlier version. The revised Finale is introduced by a first violin melody, while the first viola proposes a semiquaver figuration, followed in turn by the other instruments, in a movement largely dominated by the principal theme. It is the semiquaver figuration that provides principal thematic material for the discarded first version of the movement, which has less subtlety of effect.
The String Quintet in C major, K. 515, belongs to the group of three such works that Mozart wrote in Vienna fifteen years later. By 1788 his earlier optimism had begun to fade. He had achieved success in Vienna, but now faced increasing money difficulties. The C major Quintet was completed on 19th April 1787 and was advertised the following year, with its two companion compositions, in three April issues of the Wiener Zeitung. Copies of the work were to be had through Michael Puchberg, a fellow-mason and a business-man who had been able to lend Mozart money in part on the security of subscriptions for the quintets. The offer had to be extended, for lack of immediate public interest, as is apparent from Mozart's letters to Puchberg in June 1788 offering reassurance and seeking further help.
The C major Quintet is a work of greater maturity than the earlier composition in this form. It opens with an ascending arpeggio from the cello, accompanied by second violin and violas and capped by the first violin. The material is developed by a reversal of the process, the first violin now capped by the cello, in the key of C minor, leading to a second subject, entrusted to the violins. The F major Andante allows the first violin to embellish the melodic material, with a good deal of interplay between the parts, particularly between first violin and first viola. Various pairings are featured in the Menuetto and its interesting Trio, while the first theme of the final Allegro provides much of the substance of the last movement.
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