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Hyperion Records

CDD22005 - Mozart: String Quintets
Conversation Galante by Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Pater (1695-1736)
Reproduced by permission of The Wallace Collection, London
(Originally issued on CDA66431, CDA66432)

Recording details: December 1990
Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel, Hampstead, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Mark Brown
Engineered by Antony Howell
Release date: September 1996
DISCID: 6B0F6008 7E0ED408
Total duration: 127 minutes 37 seconds

'Can be commended to all but the most implacable opponents of authentic instruments … revelatory performances of this inexhaustible music' (The Good CD Guide)

'These deeply committed performances are a credit to Hyperion's distinguished list … this is Mozart at its best, contrasted, careful and passionate' (The Strad)

'Gorgeous performances of some of Mozart's chamber masterworks. Highly recommended' (Classic CD)

String Quintets
Allegro  [14'14]
Andante  [9'10]
Allegro  [7'38]
Adagio  [7'49]
Allegro  [5'18]
Allegro  [11'10]
Allegro di molto  [10'56]
Andante  [7'47]
Allegro  [5'40]
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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
The string quintet has a long and distinguished history. Violin consorts played four- or five-part dance music from early in the sixteenth century, though at that time they used a single violin part with two or three violas and bass. The classic string quintet scoring—two violins, two violas and bass—appeared soon after 1600; it is specified, for instance, in Monteverdi’s Orfeo of 1607, and in the consort music published in Germany by such composers as William Brade, Thomas Simpson, Johann Hermann Schein and Samuel Scheidt. The German-speaking areas of Europe remained largely faithful to the string quintet scoring throughout the seventeenth century, long after the four-part string quartet scoring had become the norm in Italy and spread to England; French composers continued to use the one violin, three viola layout until after 1700.

In the early eighteenth century German-speaking composers gradually went over to the string quartet scoring, though five-part writing is found in some early works of J S Bach and Telemann, and it lingered on in Austria and Bavaria. It was often used, for instance, by the Munich composer J C Pez (1664–1716) and by the Viennese court composer Antonio Caldara (c1670–1736). Within two decades of Caldara’s death, in the early 1750s, the young Joseph Haydn wrote his two surviving string quintets. Whether or not they are the first Classical quintets—there are some undated examples by the Viennese composer Ignaz Holzbauer (1711–1783)—they certainly have most of the features of later examples of the genre. They are both labelled ‘Cassatio’ and are light, divertimento-like works that may have been intended for outdoor serenade concerts; they are in four movements with the minuet placed second; and one of them, at least, has the common alternative scoring of flute instead of first violin.

The direct model for Mozart’s first String Quintet, K173 in B flat, seems to have been a C major Notturno written by Joseph Haydn’s brother Michael at Salzburg in February 1773. Mozart started his own work shortly after, and revised it in the light of a second Michael Haydn Quintet composed in December of that year; he organized and took part in performances of the two Haydn works at Munich in 1777. Mozart might also have known the Opus 3 Quintets (1767) of the Mannheim composer Carl Joseph Toeschi, and he would almost certainly have been aware of the Opus 2 (1772) of the important Viennese composer Florian Gassmann. Some alternative versions of Gassmann’s string quintets for two clarinets, two horns and bassoon offer interesting parallels with K406, the authentic string quintet arrangement of Mozart’s Wind Octet, K388, and an anonymous arrangement of four movements from the Serenade for twelve wind instruments and bass, K361.

The historical background I have outlined makes it unlikely that Mozart was inspired to write the two String Quintets of 1787 by the example of Boccherini’s string quintets, as is sometimes thought. In 1786 Boccherini was given a post as court composer to Frederick William II of Prussia, and provided the cello-playing monarch with a stream of quintets for two violins, viola and two cellos. But Mozart continued to use the Austrian type with two violas, and did not give the cello unusual prominence—as he was to do in the three ‘Prussian’ Quartets, written for Frederick William in 1789/90. It is more likely that he turned to the quintet because he was dissatisfied with the string quartet. He had spent much of the years 1782 to 1786 working on the six ‘Haydn’ Quartets and the ‘Hoffmeister’ Quartet; the former, he wrote, were the fruit of ‘long and laborious toil’. The addition of a second viola to the string quartet enables the composer to expand and enrich his musical resources in several directions. In particular, it offers him a surprising number of extra textures: the instruments can be grouped and regrouped into a number of contrasted twos and threes, a cello solo can be supported comfortably on a cushion of violas; and, most attractive to Mozart, first violin and first viola can sing an operatic duet accompanied by full harmony—as in the melting Andante of K515. Mozart increasingly used operatic idioms to add pathos and drama to his later instrumental works, laying the divertimento idiom of the quintet to rest in the process, though he retained Joseph Haydn’s order of movements in K515 and K516, with the Minuet second.

Mozart wrote K515 and K516 concurrently (he entered them in his catalogue on 19 April and 16 May 1787) and clearly conceived them as a contrasted pair. He had used this device with the Piano Concertos in D minor and C major, K466 and K467 (10 February and 9 March 1785), and those in A major and C minor, K488 and K491 (2 and 24 March 1786). The pairing operates on several levels. Leaving aside the obvious contrast of major and minor mode, K515 is rich, elaborately wrought, brilliant and expansive (movement for movement it is Mozart’s longest instrumental work), while K516 is terse, spare and compact, fluctuating in mood between pathos and grim despair. K516 draws on the tradition of G minor symphonies that runs through Haydn’s No 39 of the late 1760s, Vanhal’s work of the same period, J C Bach’s Op 6/6 of 1770 and Mozart’s No 25, K183, of 1773. For instance, the Quintet, like the Haydn Symphony, opens quietly and almost informally with a nervous, questing melody supported by throbbing quavers—the device made famous by Mozart’s second G minor Symphony, No 40, K550. In many respects K515 and K516 foreshadow Mozart’s last two symphonies, also a G minor/C major pair composed concurrently; Mozart entered them in his catalogue on 25 July and 10 August 1788. K516, however, has an unusual and controversial last movement in G major; some have seen it as an anticlimax, but it is hard not to notice irony and hollowness underneath the gaiety.

Mozart’s last two Quintets, K593 in D and K614 in E flat, also form a pair, though they were composed at the distance of several months; they are dated December 1790 and 12 April 1791 and were published by Artaria in 1793 with a note that they had been composed for an unidentified ‘Hungarian music lover’. Opinion has been sharply divided about them. Eric Blom thought K614 ‘the most superb’ of all the Quintets, but to Hans Keller all the movements except the Andante of K614 were ‘a stylistic mystery and a textural failure’ and most of the work sounded ‘like a bad arrangement of a wind piece in mock-Haydn style’. Without going that far, it is true that there are obvious horn imitations in the opening Larghetto of K593 (uniquely in Mozart, the passage recurs in the coda of the Allegro), and much of K614 has the sort of open textures one expects in wind serenades. Mozart’s Hungarian patron (he may have been the merchant Johann Tost, the dedicatee of Haydn’s Opp 54, 55 and 64) may have wanted light serenade-like music, or Mozart may even have had some idea of making alternative wind versions of the pieces, as Gassmann had done. Whatever the truth of the matter, the two works are highly ambiguous in tone, simple and almost rustic on one level, and yet charged with an indefinable Mozartian melancholy under the surface

Peter Holman © 1996

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