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The following ‘Minuet’ has a stately manner. The horns play in the low key of D major, lending a sonorous, opulent sound to the ensemble. The delicate ‘Trio’ section, by contrast, is scored for strings alone. The ‘Andantino’ is in rondo-style. Mozart revels in the sound of the new key, A major, making only limited excursions away from it; the first four bars of the recurring rondo are based entirely on the A major chord. The movement does, however, contain some delightful surprises. When the oboe takes over the theme, it is transformed and given a new continuation in which, after a pause and a short oboe cadenza, the rondo melody resumes at a faster tempo.
For the second ‘Minuet’, Mozart abandons the traditional ‘minuet & trio’ form, writing instead a sequence of variations that provide solos in turn for oboe, first violin and second violin; between each variation the ‘Minuet’ returns in its original form. The finale is another rondo that echoes the first movement’s vivacious, joyful mood. Halfway through, following a minor-key episode featuring solo oboe, a new theme in popular style is introduced. We can imagine that this is a quotation of a melody well-known to the original audience. Notably, similar quotations occur in the finales of the Violin Concertos K216 and K218, and the Divertimento, K287.
K251, like K203 and most of Mozart’s serenades and longer divertimenti, has an accompanying march. Since this ‘March’ is part of the autograph manuscript and not preserved separately, it doesn’t have its own Köchel number. Its title, ‘Marcia alla francese’ (French March), is likely a reference to its rhythmic basis, five beats, followed by three silent (or de-stressed) ones, the traditional pattern of drumbeats to which the French infantry marched. The pattern can be heard repeated in the bass part.
The manuscript of K251 bears the date July 1776. It has been suggested, though with no direct evidence, that it was composed as a name-day present for Wolfgang’s sister Nannerl (26 July). Certainly, from a letter he wrote two years later from Paris, we know that Mozart had in previous years composed music to celebrate the occasion. Nannerl would doubtless have fully appreciated this Divertimento’s wonderful craftsmanship and found such a sunny work a perfect celebratory gift.
from notes by Duncan Druce © 2008