ClassicsOnline Home » MOZART: String Quartets, K. 136-138 and K. 465, 'Dissonance'
"The Eder's play with that intimacy and rapport developed over two decades together"
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 - 1791)
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, and after its successful staging he was summoned by his patron to Vienna. There Mozart's 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 string quartet developed as a form in the second half of the eighteenth century, coming to assume the greatest importance for composers. Stendhal's account of the matter, in his Lettres sur J. Haydn, is well known. He recalls the description given by a woman of intelligence who found the quartet similar to the conversation of four friends, the first violin, a middle-aged man and a good speaker, leading the discourse, supported by his friend, the second violin, who would seek to allow the first to shine, the viola would be a knowledgeable man of sound opinions, occasionally adding his own laconic but truthful comments, while the cello was a woman who had nothing very important to say, and yet always sought to take part in the conversation, adding an element of gracefulness and sometimes allowing the others time to draw breath. It is true that with the later quartets of Haydn and those of Mozart in which he rivalled the example of the older man, there is an equilibrium between the four instruments, each with its essential contribution to a form that epitomizes the music of the period, a microcosm into which the essence of music is subsumed.
The three Quartet-Divertimenti, K.136, K. 137 and K. 138, have posed certain questions. The title Divertimento was normally used by Mozart and his contemporaries to describe a composition in several movements, generally including two minuets and may, therefore. be discounted. These works were written in Salzburg in 1772, it is thought in preparation for the coming journey to Italy, where the opera Lucio Silla had been commissioned. In form the so called Divertimenti are three movement Italian symphonies, only needing the addition of wind parts to assume a form that might well have had occasional use during Mozart's stay in Italy, hence the common German description of them as the Salzburg Symphonies. Whatever the composer's original intention, they provide a valuable element in quartet repertoire. This adaptability was not entirely unusual, at least for publishers seeking a varied market, and the Piano Concertos K. 413- 415 were advertised a decade later in Vienna as suitable for keyboard and string quartet or for full orchestra. K. 136, in D major, the best known of the three, opens with an Allegro, followed by an attractive G major slow movement and a rapid finale with the requisite touch of contrapuntal interest, K. 137, in B flat major, starts with an Andante, followed by two faster movements and the third of the set, K. 138, in F major, follows an opening tripartite Allegro with a G major Andante and a final Presto.
The so-called Dissonance Quartet, K. 465 in G major, is a work of a very different kind. It was written in Vienna and is dated 14th January 1785, the sixth and last of a set dedicated to Haydn, for whom he joined in a performance of the new quartets the following evening. A month later Leopold Mozart was present at a performance of the last three of the set, works that were new to him, when Haydn visited Mozart. Writing home to his daughter in Salzburg, Leopold Mozart repeated to her Haydn's praise of her brother as the greatest composer known to him either in person or by name, with both taste and a deep knowledge of composition. Mozart's dedication of the six quartets to Haydn describes them as the fruit of a long and laborious study, entrusting them as children to a father, and there is evidence of the care that Mozart took over these compositions and the influence of Haydn, himself to be influenced by these works in his turn.
The quartet opens with a slow introduction that gives the work its nick-name and has provided material for commentators and critics. This is followed by an Allegro in which the first violin announces the principal theme, accompanied at first only by second violin and viola, and later presented in contrapuntal imitation, before the contrast of a second subject in quicker note-values and a third thematic element in triplets. The F major second movement, marked Andante cantabile, is one of considerable subtlety in construction. It is followed by a Minuet with contrasting elements of dynamics and texture, framing a C minor Trio and a finale with its own harmonic surprises in a bold treatment of customary form.
The Éder Quartet
The present members of the Éder Quartet are János Selmeczy (1st Violin), Péter Szucs (2nd Violin), Sandor Papp (Vidla) and György Éder (Cello). The Éder Quartet was formed in 1973 by the students of the Budapest Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music.
The Éder Quartet won the top prize in the 1976 Evian International String Quartet Concours, where the jury included the members of the Amadeus Quartet, and clinched second prize in the 1977 ARD International String Quartet Competition in Munich (the first prize was not awarded). Since their success in Munich they guest-performed in almost every European country and captivated the public and critics alike at the international festivals of Bordeaux, West Berlin, Evlan, Istanbul and Bath. Besides Europe, they toured extensively the United States, Australia and New Zealand. The quartet is currently recording the complete Mozart string quartets for Naxos.