MOZART Amadeus, String Quartet in D K499

1. Allegretto
2. Menuetto and Trio. Allegretto
3. Adagio
4. Allegro

 

Like Haydn before him, Mozart habitually published his string quartets in groups of six (the ‘Haydn’ Quartets) or three (the ‘Prussian’ Quartets). Between these two sets there is a single work, entered in Mozart’s manuscript catalogue of his own works on 19 August 1786 as ‘a quartet for 2 violins, viola and violoncello’. The autograph manuscript (in the British Library) is simply titled ‘Quartetto’. It was published in 1788 by the Viennese firm founded by Mozart’s friend Franz Anton Hoffmeister and it has come to be known as the ‘Hoffmeister’ Quartet as a result. The first movement opens with a theme in octaves that outlines a descending D major arpeggio – an idea that dominates much of the movement despite some startling harmonic excursions along the way. The development section is marked by almost continuous quaver movement that gives way magically to the opening theme at the start of the recapitulation. The Minuet has an easy-going charm that contrasts with the sterner mood (and minor key) of the Trio section. The great Mozart biographer Alfred Einstein thought the Adagio spoke ‘of past sorrow, with a heretofore unheard-of-depth’. It is not only a deeply touching movement but also an extremely ingenious one, not least when the initial idea heard on two violins returns on viola and cello, investing the same music with a darker, richer texture. The finale is fast and playful, but there’s also astonishing inventiveness in the flow of ideas, from the opening triplets with their chromatic twists to a contrasting theme which scampers up and down the scale. A few sudden and surprising dynamic contrasts keep the listener guessing right to the end.

 

Nigel Simeone

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