Cynthia Roberts, Patricia Ahern, violin; Karina Schmitz, Kyle Miller, viola; Allen Whear, cello
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Quintet in C Major, K. 515
Franz Joseph Haydn, Quartet in F Major, op. 77, no. 2
Finale: Vivace assai
Just before the turn of the 18th century, Haydn was commissioned to write a set of six quartets for Prince Lobkowitz, one of Vienna’s most important musical patrons. Although still at the top of his form at age 67, Haydn was preoccupied with other projects, such as his projected oratorio The Seasons, and thus ultimately was only able to finish two complete quartets, which have been designated as op. 77 and sometimes called the “Lobkowitz” quartets in honor of their dedicatee. Thus the F Major Quartet is the last complete work in the form brought to its highest potential over decades of innovation by its undisputed master.
The Allegro moderato is in sonata form, with particularly lyrical themes. The Menuetto is really a lively scherzo in character, anticipating (or perhaps even influenced by) those of Beethoven. A contrastingly warm Trio in the distant key of D-flat Major returns to the Menuetto via a brief, tentative transition. The Andante begins as a simple duet that soon develops into variations. As the instrumental parts become increasingly elaborate, so does the harmonic richness and depth. A concluding Finale contains many delightful hints of Haydn’s rustic upbringing and pervasive humor.
In the spring of 1788, Mozart was experiencing financial difficulties and seemed to be falling out of favor with the Viennese public. He advertised “Three new Quintets for 2 Violins, 2 Violas, and Violoncello, which I offer on subscription, handsomely and correctly written…”
Three months later, he published another notice in the Wiener Zeitung: “Since the number of subscribers is still very small, I am forced to postpone issuing my 3 Quintets until 1 January, 1789.” These three quintets included a string arrangement of the Serenade for Winds in C Minor, K. 388, (the original of which can be heard on the Sunday Candlelight series) the famous Quintet in G Minor, K. 516, and the Quintet in C Major, K. 515. Mozart had similar difficulties a year later attracting subscribers for his last symphonies, which included the similarly paired—in terms of contrasting keys and overall characters—no. 40 in G Minor, K. 550 and no. 41 in C Major, K. 551, the “Jupiter.” Despite the apparent indifference of Viennese society—or perhaps because of the resulting freedom—Mozart created works of unsurpassed originality and perfection.
The first movement (Allegro) of the C Major Quintet begins with an interesting dialogue between cello and violin: the former launches a series of solid, rising arpeggios, the latter replies in a lyrical way. Then, with an abrupt change of tonality, the roles are reversed. This sets the pattern for a movement full of innovation in its use of a variety of textures and harmonic shifts, laid out in a large-patterned sonata form. At 368 bars, it was a record length at the time for a movement of chamber music.
The Andante takes the dialogue concept to a deeper level. The interplay between first violin and viola has been described as a passionate love duet, with an intensity and virtuosity recalling Mozart’s great Sinfonia Concertante, K. 364. If you prefer a more chaste description, consider the possibility, as put forth by musicologist H.C. Robbins Landon, that Haydn and Mozart played this piece together. If this was so, perhaps Mozart conceived it as “a civilized and highly intellectual conversation between two friends.” The Menuetto features a dynamic innovation: crescendos, which are cut short by sudden pianos. This effect was later embraced by Beethoven, but here it is more subtle and smooth. Each half of the Trio concludes with an elegant phrase as charming as a music box. The breezy finale (Allegro) combines rondo and sonata forms, expanding the normal roadmap with formal development. As in the first movement, this requires a generously proportioned, but beautifully balanced musical architecture. — Allen Whear