MOZART: String Quartets, K. 156, K. 158-159 and K. 458
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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 - 1791)
Born in Salzburg in 1756, the son of a musician who was later appointed Vice-Kapellmeister to the ruling Archbishop, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart won international fame as a child prodigy. He showed particular ability as a keyboard-player and as a violinist, astonishing audiences by his skill and musical understanding, and later as a composer. Adolescence in Salzburg proved less satisfactory, particularly after the death of the old Archbishop and the succession of a new patron who showed much less indulgence to members of his household. Leopold Mozart had early realised the exceptional gifts of his son and had made it his business to develop them to the detriment of his own career, but father and son both understood that provincial Salzburg was far too limited in its opportunities. Eventually, in 1781, during the course of a visit to Vienna in the entourage of the Archbishop, Mozart quarrelled with his employer and secured his dismissal. The remaining ten years of his life were spent in Vienna, where he enjoyed initial success and later more variable fortune, in relative independence of his father and of a patron. He died in December 1791, when matters seemed to have taken a turn for the better, with the success of the German opera Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) and a promise of employment at the Cathedral of St. Stephen.
In Vienna Mozart appeared during his early years in the city as a virtuoso pianist, writing a series of piano concertos, principally for his own use. In Salzburg he had at one time paid considerable attention to the violin, and his father, an authority on the subject of violin teaching and author of a well known book on the subject, considered he could have been as good a violinist as anyone. In Salzburg he was for some years Konzertmeister, before leaving in 1777 to seek his fortune in Mannheim and in Paris. When he returned in 1779 it was as court organist. It must be supposed that Mozart would always have been ready to take part in musical performances at home or perhaps at social gatherings, in whatever capacity, and we have one account, at least, of a memorable evening of quartet playing at a party given by Stephen Storace, when Mozart played the viola, Haydn and Dittersdorf the violins and a fourth composer, Vanhal, the cello, to the great pleasure of the singer Michael Kelly, who recorded the event, and to the poet Casti and the composer Paisiello, who were also present.
Mozart completed some 26 string quartets, the first in 1770, at the age of fourteen, and the last in June 1790, the year before his death, when he wrote the first three quartets of a proposed set of six for the King Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia. The Quartet in B flat major, K. 458, known as The Hunt, was completed on 9th November 1784, to be published in October the following year by Artaria as third of a set of six, forming, collectively, Opus X, in the publisher's description. Mozart dedicated the six quartets to Joseph Haydn, offering them as the result of long and laborious study. Three of the quartets were not new, but had been written in 1782 and 1783, while Haydn had heard the three new ones played at Mozart's house in February, during the course of a visit to Vienna by Leopold Mozart, who was comforted by the praise Haydn bestowed on his son. These Haydn quartets of Mozart, written under the influence of the older composer, had their reciprocal influence on Haydn's own later quartets. The Hunt opens with a figure that suggests the sound of the huntsman's horn, treated with some subtlety and followed by a shorter figure that is the subject 0f1mitation by the four instruments of the quartet. The Minuet and Trio that forms the second movement are followed by an Adagio that allows opening dynamic contrasts and subsequent melodic embellishment. A whispered conclusion is followed by the first violin's introduction of an Allegro theme that dominates the last movement.
The Quartet in F major, K. 158, is the fourth of a group of six, written during Mozart's third visit to Italy, where he was to provide Milan with a carnival opera, Lucio Silla. Mozart and his father left Salzburg on 24th October 1727 and reached Milan on 4th November. The F major Quartet was completed at the end of 1772 or early the following year, identified by some with a quartet Mozart was writing on 6th February and mentioned in a letter home to his wife by Leopold Mozart on that date. A descending triplet arpeggio from the first violin starts the work, a figure that recurs. The slow movement, with its imitated opening figure, is in the key of A minor and leads to a final Tempo di Minuetto, in accordance with the three-movement form favoured in Milan, framing an F minor section. The Quartet in B flat major, K. 159, follows closely in order of composition and is the fifth of his first quartet cycle by Mozart. Marked Andante by Leopold Mozart, the quartet starts with a statement of the first theme by the second violin, repeated and altered by the first violin. A lively figure is exploited in the central development, before the return of the principal theme from the second violin. The second movement, marked Allegro, apparently by Leopold Mozart, is in G minor and its first theme ends in emphatic unanimity. Leopold Mozart added the apt marking Allegro grazioso to the final rondo. The Quartet in G major, K. 156, is the second of the cycle, probably written in Milan at the end of 1772 The first movement, in the usual tripartite form, is introduced in lively mood by the first violin. A brief pause follows the central development section, after which the principal theme re-appears. The E minor slow movement allows a miraculous interweaving of parts, a second version of a movement originally couched in starker terms, as first violin and cello move together, accompanied by the second violin and viola In this recording the original Adagio is included after the final Tempo di Menuetto which uses the pattern of K. 158, enclosing a contrasted section in G Minor.
The Éder Quartet
The present members of the Éder Quartet are János Selmeczy (1st Violin), Péter Szucs (2nd Violin), Sandor Papp (Vidla) and György Éder (Cello). The Éder Quartet was formed in 1973 by the students of the Budapest Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music.
The Éder Quartet won the top prize in the 1976 Evian International String Quartet Concours, where the jury included the members of the Amadeus Quartet, and clinched second prize in the 1977 ARD International String Quartet Competition in Munich (the first prize was not awarded). Since their success in Munich they guest-performed in almost every European country and captivated the public and critics alike at the international festivals of Bordeaux, West Berlin, Evlan, Istanbul and Bath. Besides Europe, they toured extensively the United States, Australia and New Zealand. The quartet is currently recording the complete Mozart string quartets for Naxos.