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ClassicsOnline Home » MOZART: String Quartets, K. 80, K. 155, K. 157 and K. 387
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791)
String Quartet in G Major, K. 80
String Quartet in D Major, K. 155
String Quartet in C Major, K. 157
String Quartet in G Major, K. 387
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. He showed particular ability as a keyboard-player and as a violinist, astonishing audiences by his skill and musical understanding, and later as a composer. 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 realized 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 this father and of a patron. He died in December 1791, when matters seemed to have taken a turn for the better, with the success of the German opera Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) and a promise of employment at the Cathedral of St Stephen.
In Vienna Mozart appeared during his early years in the city as a virtuoso pianist, writing a series of piano concertos, principally for his own use. In Salzburg he head at one time paid considerable attention to the violin, and his father, an authority on the subject of violin teaching and author of a well known book on the subject, considered he could have been as good a violinist as anyone. In Salzburg he was for some years Konzertmeister, before leaving in 1777 to seek his fortune in Mannheim and in Paris. When he returned in 1779 it was as court organist. It must be supposed that Mozart would always have been ready to take part in musical performances at home or perhaps at social gatherings, in whatever capacity, and we have one account, at least, of a memorable evening of quartet playing at a party given by Stephen Storace, when Mozart played the viola, Haydn and Dittersdorf the violins and a fourth composer, Vanhal, the cello, to the great pleasure of the singer Michael Kelly, who recorded the event, and to the poet Casti and the composer Paisiello, who were also present.
Mozart completed some 26 string quartets, the first in 1770, at the age of fourteen, and the last in June 1790, the year before his death, when he wrote the first three quarters of a proposed set of six for King Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia. The Quartet in G major, K. 80, is known as the Lodi Quartet and seems to have been Mozart’s first attempt at the form, completed on 15 March 1770, during the course of a visit to Italy and carrying the precise autograph annotation Quarteto di amadeo Mozart à 1770. le 15 di Marzo / alle 7. di sera. Mozart had later use for the work during his second visit to Mannheim, in 1778, when he designed the work of the use of Freiherr von Gemmingen-Hornberg, a patron and later a fellow-mason of the composer in Vienna. The visit to Italy by Mozart and his father brought with it the composition and performance of a new opera, Mitridate, rè di Ponto, in Milan in the carnival season at the end of the year. This first string quartet was written at an inn at Lodi during the course of a journey from Milan to Bologna, where Mozart was later to study with the learned Padre Martini. The quartet was apparently originally in the three movements customary in Italy with the composer Sammartini and his circle in Milan, to which Mozart later added a final rondo. An opening slow movement is followed by an Allegro, with a second subject treated in brief canonic imitation. The Minuet has a contrasting C major Trio, while the rondo, written a year later, is of transparent simplicity.
The Quartet in D major, K. 155 the first in a group of six, and therefore sometimes given the title Quartetto I, was written during Mozart’s third visit to Italy, where he was to provide Milan with a carnival opera, Lucio Silla. Mozart and his father left Salzburg on 24 October, travelling through the mountains by way of Brixen (Bressanone) and Bozen (Bolzano). The quartet was composed during the course of this first stage of their journey, while they were at Bozen, to while away the time, as his father explained in a letter home to his wife. The cycle of quartets is in related keys. The first of the set opens in fine style, with the customary lyricism bestowed on the second subject. The central development section of the movement is introduced by the viola, imitated by the other three instruments in turn. The A major Andante starts with a them doubled by first violin and viola in octaves, with the assistance of the second violin, and the quartet ends with an effortless rondo. The third quartet of the group, the Quartet in C major, K. 157, was apparently completed at the end of 1772 of the beginning of 1773 in Milan. The quartet opens with a first theme that has its origin in the ascending and descending scale of C major. The moving C minor Andante leads to a return to the major in a final Presto.
Mozart’s Quartet in G major, K. 387, was completed in Vienna on 31 December 1782. It was announced in September 1785 by the publisher Artaria as the first of a set of six, forming, collectively, Opus X, in the publisher’s description. Mozart dedicated the six quartets to Joseph Haydn, offering them as the result of long and laborious study. Three of the quartets, including the present work, were not new, but had been written in 1782 and 1783, while Haydn had heard the three new ones played at Mozart’s house in February, during the course of a visit to Vienna by Leopold Mozart, who was comforted by the praise Haydn bestowed on his son. These Haydn quartets of Mozart, written under the influence of the older composer, had their own reciprocal influence on Haydn’s own later quartets. The first of these mature quartets opens with an Allegro vivace of a technical complexity that may not be apparent to the casual listener, with a much extended central development section. The Minuet brings curiously abrupt changes in dynamics, framing a G minor Trio. The slow movement introduces delicate melodic embellishment and the appearance of a triplet accompaniment figure, introduced by the cello. The last movement starts with a subject imitated contrapuntally by the other instruments of the quartet and this element of counterpoint is a continuing and important feature of the movement.
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MOZART: String Quartets, K. 80, K. 155, K. 157 and...