MOZART Amadeus, String Quintet in G minor K516

1. Allegro
2. Menuetto: Allegretto
3. Adagio ma non troppo
4. Adagio – Allegro

 

Mozart’s string quintets are all for the combination of two violins, two violas and cellos, with the two violas allowing for particularly rich inner parts. The Quintet in G minor K516 was completed on 16 May 1787, four weeks after his C major Quintet – and during the final illness of his father Leopold, who on 28 May. Though Mozart and his father had a strained relationship by this time, the composer was alarmed at Leopold’s illness and reacted with the now famous letter written on April 1787 in which he declared that ‘death, when we come to consider it closely, is the true goal of our existence, I have formed during the last few years such close relations with this best and truest friend of mankind that his image is not only no longer terrifying to me, but is indeed very soothing and consoling!’

The G minor Quintet – written by an estranged son who knew that his father was dying – is probably the most tragic of all Mozart’s chamber works. W.W. Cobbett described it as a ‘struggle with destiny’ and found it ‘filled with the resignation of despair’ – though this is rather to overlook the major-key ebullience of the finale. The first movement is full of restrained pathos, both themes melancholy and understated – and all the more wrenching for that. The minuet is sombre and reflective while the slow movement was, for the great Mozart scholar Alfred Einstein, the desolate core of the work. He likened it to ‘the prayer of a lonely one surrounded on all sides by the walls of a deep chasm.’ The element of tragedy is still very apparent in the slow introduction to the finale; but finally Mozart unleashes a more joyous spirit. The French poet Henri Ghéon found an eloquent description for this turning point: ‘Mozart has had enough. He knew how to cry but he did not like to cry or to suffer for too long.’

 

NIGEL SIMEONE 2010

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