MOZART Wolfgang Amadeus, String Quartet in E flat K428

Allegro non troppo 
Andante con moto 
Menuetto and Trio. Allegro 
Allegro vivace 

In 1785 the Viennese publisher Artaria issued a set of six string quartets by Mozart, the title page of which reads: “Six Quartets for two violins, viola and violoncello. Composed and dedicated to Signor Joseph Haydn, Master of Music for the Prince of Esterhazy, by his friend W.A. Mozart.” This was a most unusual dedication for the time: composers nearly always dedicated works to the aristocrats who supported them financially, not to fellow musicians. The long dedicatory epistle is headed “To my dear friend Haydn”. Mozart explains why he dedicated these quartets to Haydn, wanting to confide them “to the protection and guidance of a very celebrated man, especially when the latter by good fortune was at the same time his best friend.” The quartets, he writes, are “the fruit of a long and laborious study,” but that Haydn himself had told Mozart of his “satisfaction with them during your last visit to this capital. It is this above all which urges me to commend them to you … and to be their father, guide and friend!” 

After hearing these quartets, Haydn declared to Mozart’s father that “Before God and as an honest man, I tell you that your son is the greatest composer known to me either in person or by name.” Mozart’s “long and laborious study” included a detailed examination of Haydn’s Quartets Op.33 (composed in 1781), but while he had studied Haydn’s magnificent model, the results were no pastiche, but six works of extraordinary originality. 

The Quartet in E flat, K428, is the third of the “Haydn” Quartets and it was completed in 1783. It opens with a spacious theme in octaves that already reveals some of the chromatic colouring that gives this work its strikingly individual character. This harmonic daring is continued in the extraordinary slow movement – rich and intense – which seems to hint at the music of later composers, especially Brahms (the persistent drooping figure) and even Wagner. The Minuet is bracing but never predictable, while the central Trio is again more sinuous and chromatic. The delectable Rondo finale is a brilliant example of Mozart’s quartet writing at its most witty and inventive: a dazzling homage that captures the very essence of Haydn.  

© Nigel Simeone  


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