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ClassicsOnline Home » MOZART: String Quintets, K. 406 and K. 516
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 - 1791)
String Quintets Vol. 2
String Quintet in C Minor, K. 406
String Quintet in G Minor, K. 516
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 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.
Mozart's String Quintet in C minor, K 406 is the composer's own arrangement of a Wind Serenade, K. 388, for two oboes, clarinets, horns and bassoon, written in 1782 at the end of July, shortly after the completion of the Singspiel Die Entführung aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Seraglio). It is mentioned by Mozart in a letter to his father on 27th July in that year, described as Nacht Musique but is not in the form or mood of a Serenade. The later arrangement was presumably designed to be advertised with the Quintels K. 515 and 516 on 2nd, 5th and 9th April 1788 in the Wiener Zeitung, where they are announced as schön und korrekt geschrieben, to be had from Johann Michael Puchberg, the textile-merchant and fellow freemason of Mozart, to whom he had lent various sums of money. The advertised quintets, available on subscription, represented an effort by Mozart to repay Puchberg. The failure of this attempt can be seen from a second advertisement in the Wiener Zeitung on 25th June, extending the subscription period to 1st January 1789. Publication by Artaria followed in 1789 and 1790, with the third of the quintets, K 406, appearing in 1792 after the composer's death.
The C minor Quintet, like Mozart's other string quintets scored for two violins, two violas and cello, opens with a strong statement of the key on the ascending notes of the C minor tonic chord, with a softer answering syncopated phrase The second subject, in E flat major, is announced by the first violin, then joined by the first viola. Marked rhythms conclude the exposition, which is then repeated, followed by the central development, at first entrusted to violas and cello. There is a pause before the return of the first subject in recapitulation, with the second subject now transposed into C minor and varied to suit its new harmonic context. A gentle E flat melody opens the Andante, a first violin aria, in which the second violin joins in duet. The principal theme makes a hesitant re-appearance, followed by the secondary material, now transposed to end in E flat. The C minor Menuetto in canone uses the imitative device of canon in various ways, at first when the cello imitates the first violin and later briefly between first and second violin and more substantially between violins and violas, followed by the cello. The Trio, in C major, is in inverted canon, the first violin imitating the second with an inversion of the theme and the cello the first viola, while the second viola remains silent. The final Allegro is a set of variations, the first strongly marked in rhythm, followed by a version of the theme in triplets from the first violin. Syncopation characterizes the next variation, leading to a version that allows the cello a running part. Violas and cello open an E flat major variation, answered by the violins The first viola springs into activity in the next treatment of the material, followed by the cello, and a solemn passage of suspensions leads to the return of the theme, now in a cheerful C major.
The Quintet in G minor, K. 516, bears the date 16th May 1787 and was written either before or during the composition of Don Giovanni, the period of the final illness of Mozart's father, who died in Salzburg on 28th May. It is the most heartfelt of the string quintets, with an immediate poignancy in the principal theme, heard initially from the first violin, accompanied by second violin and first viola and then from the first viola, accompanied by the second viola and cello. The descending notes of the cello, echoing those of the first violin, lead to a second subject that goes some way towards dispelling the air of melancholy. This is transformed into the tragic in the development and again on its re-appearance in the recapitulation. The principal theme dominates the coda, as instrument after instrument enters in imitation. The Minuet sustains the mood, its melodic line broken by heavy chords. The Trio, in G major, offers a measure of contrast. The E flat major Adagio starts with a muted statement of the principal theme in music of great beauty, from which tragedy is never far away and soon makes its overt appearance. There is delight in the descending violin figure, answered by the first viola over a syncopated accompaniment, before the return of the first theme. The key of G minor returns in the Adagio introduction to the last movement in music of infinite sadness, leading to the G major Allegro, with its delicate and sprightly theme, intervening between episodes in which still the occasional shadow falls.
The present members of the Éder Quartet are the violinists György Selmeczi and Péter Szüts, Sándor Papp, viola, and György Éder, cello. The quartet was formed in 1973 by students of the Liszt Academy in Budapest and won first prize in the 1976 Evian International String Quartet Competition, where the jury included members of the Amadeus Quartet, taking second prize in the ARD International String Quartet Competition in Munich in 1977, when no first prize was awarded. Since their success in Munich, they have performed in almost every European country, captivating audiences and critics alike at the international festivals of Bordeaux, West Berlin, Evian, Istanbul and Bath. The quartet has also toured extensively in the United States of America, Australia and New Zealand and is recording all the Mozart and Shostakovich string quartets for Naxos.
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MOZART: String Quintets, K. 406 and K. 516