MOZART: Piano Quartets, K. 478 and K. 493 (Menuhin Festival Piano Quartet) (Naxos: 8.554274)
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Wolfgang AmadeusMozart (1756-1791)
Piano Quartet in Gminor, K.478
Piano Quartet in Eflat major, K.493
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in Salzburg in 1756, the son of a courtmusician who, in the year of his youngest child's birth, published an influentialbook on violin-playing. Leopold Mozart rose to occupy the position ofVice-Kapellmeister to the Archbishop of Salzburg, but sacrificed his owncreative career to that of his son, in whom he detected early signs ofprecocious genius. With the indulgence of his patron, he was able to undertakeextended concert tours of Europe in which his son and elder daughter Nannerlwere able to astonish audiences. The boy played both the keyboard and theviolin and could improvise and soon write down his own compositions.
Childhood that had brought Mozart signal success was followed by a lesssatisfactory period of adolescence largely in Salzburg under the patronage of anew and less sympathetic Archbishop. Like his father, Mozart foundopportunities far too limited at home, while chances of travel were nowrestricted. In 1777, when leave of absence was not granted, he gave upemployment in Salzburg to seek a future elsewhere, but neither Mannheim norParis, both musical centres of some importance, had anything for him. HisMannheim connections, however, brought a commission for an opera in Munich in1781, 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 theArchbishop and dismissal from his service.
The last ten years of Mozart's life were spent in Vienna in precariousindependence of both patron and immediate paternal advice, a situationaggravated by an imprudent marriage. Initial success in the opera-house and asa performer was followed, as the decade went on, by increasing financialdifficulties. By the time of his death in December 1791, however, his fortunesseemed about to change for the better, with the success of the German opera TheMagic Flute, and the possibility of increased patronage.
The piano quartet, which reached its eighteenth-century apogee in thetwo quartets of Mozart, had its origin in the keyboard concerto, here in thereduced instrumentation of a chamber concerto, as in the work of Mannheim composersor of Johann Christian Bach, some of whose keyboard sonatas Mozart had, as aboy, transcribed as chamber concertos, accompanied by two violins and bass. InVienna he wrote two piano quartets. The first of these, the Piano Quartet inG minor, K.478, bears the date 16th October 1785 and was completed on that datein Vienna, to be published there by Franz Anton Hoffmeister. By 20th NovemberMozart was writing to Hoffmeister with some urgency, seeking money. By 2ndDecember Leopold Mozart, in a letter to his daughter, gives news of the receiptof the work, together with copies of the quartets Mozart had recently dedicatedto Haydn. In the following August he included the quartet in a list ofcompositions sent to Sebastian Winter in Donaueschingen, from which it washoped that Winter's employer, Prince von F??rstenberg, would make his choice.
This choice did not, in the end, include the Piano Quartet. It was saidthat Hoffmeister complained that he could not sell the new work, intended asthe first of a set of three, because it was too difficult, and that he allowedMozart to keep the advance he had received for the whole commission.
The key of G minor is a dramatic one and the Piano Quartet startswith a united opening figure, to which the piano offers a reply. There-appearance of the opening figure elicits a further version of it from thepiano, returning in what immediately follows. The piano introduces the B flatmajor second subject, to which the string instruments have something to add,the substance of this taken up by the piano. There is a central development,with versions of the opening figure of the movement leading to therecapitulation and the concluding section, with its emphatic ending. The pianointroduces the B flat major slow movement, its rapid figuration passed to theviolin in accompaniment, with a secondary theme in the dominant, making itsfirst appearance with the string instruments. The final Rondo is in Gmajor, its principal theme first stated by the piano, before being passed to theviolin and viola, an octave apart. A secondary episode in D major finds a placefor triplet rhythms in music fertile in melodic invention that seems, as sooften, to be more than prodigal with its material. The quartet, as its choiceof opening key suggests, is a demanding work, starting in tragedy but ending insheer delight.
The Piano Quartet in E flat major, K.493, was completed on 3rdJune 1786, a month after the first performance of the new opera The Marriageof Figaro. It was published by Artaria in the summer of 1787. The firstmovement opens less ominously than that of the earlier quartet, allowingdelicate contrast between the piano and the other instruments, now even moreclosely integrated in the chamber-music texture of the work. The piano beginsthe second subject, which is soon taken from it by the violin, which has moreto add, before the exposition is completed. The development makes further useof the figure that opens the subsidiary material, before the recapitulation.
The slow movement is an A flat major Larghetto, its gentle principaltheme introduced by the piano. The tripartite structure again finds room forsubtle interplay between the instruments, with the piano never allowed tooverwhelm its partners. The quartet ends with an Allegretto, a Rondo withrhythmic variety in its contrasting episodes, rich in its melodic material, ifmarginally less demanding than its predecessor.