W. A. Mozart String Quartet No. 2 in D major, K. 155

performed by the Amadeus Quartet, or below, in an echoey recording by the Festetics Quartet

We are now into the ‘Milanese quartets’, a true cycle of six quartets the young Mozart wrote in Milan between 1772 and 1773. These Milanese quartets are numbers 2-7, seeing as there was the single independent K. 80 quartet published before these.

More than a month ago, we did our most recent Mozart symphony, the thirteenth, but these six quartets coincide with the symphonies numbered in the early 20s, while the composer was still in his mid to late teens. This quartet has to be one of the shortest we have discussed or will discuss, depending on observation of repeats; the Amadeus Quartet’s recording comes in at less than nine minutes, but it’s a sweet little piece, if only to enjoy the good humor in the finale.

The first movement is clean, somewhat more mellow or proper than the first quartet. The opening subject is friendly and polite, good-natured, contrasted (slightly) with a slightly more pensive, almost reaching somber, second subject. There’s no repeat  of the exposition here, notably, and the viola picks up the melodic sixteenth notes right before the development. This development, while short, is relatively rich with a call-and-answer type echo among the instruments (viola, then second violin, cello and finally first violin) with interesting harmonic turns. The recapitulation quickly brings us back to the opening material, and the viola jumps right back in at the end to finish out the movement.

I find the second movement rather subdued and straightforward. It is essentially in two parts, the second more filled-out (?) than the first. Marked andante, it is quite slow, so even the sixteenth notes through much of the opening don’t have much liveliness to them, although there’s a stately pleasantness. The latter half of the section opens up a bit, with sixteenth-note triplets in the second then first violin, with a freer, more lively quality. Sixteenth notes reappear with trills on each downbeat, and the first section ends and is repeated. The second section also carries a repeat, but the Amadeus recording doesn’t observe it, and I’m completely okay with that.

If there were ever a quaint, cute wink of a movement that gave you a smile, like a friend making a joke they know only you’ll get, this is it. It makes the rather straightforward second movement feel like a setup for this. It’s so cheery, and even a bit naughty. Marked molto allegro by Daddy Mozart’s hand, there’s a long string of A’s in the first violin with double stops for each one that for some reason strikes me as a kind of joke.

There’s something adorable about the repeated A (and there’s an ossia provided below)

 The movement is played briskly, playfully, and the eighth-note triplets that follow quicken the pulse a bit after the clean, metered 2/4 rhythm. There are more enjoyable harmonic turns to follow, tossing us into D minor for a quick spell before bringing back the D major opening theme followed by sixteenth note runs in the first violin, which seem whimsical and even a bit rebellious. I can imagine Daddy Leopold rolling his eyes at this passage, perhaps, and the entire quartet chimes in for the end of a phrase and sudden, abrupt finish to this cute little work.

We have five more Milanese quartets that the young Mozart produced in this time, and we shall get to them in due course. The evening of the day this article is posted, I will be seeing the Berlin Philharmonic live (!!!!!!!!!!) playing an all-Beethoven program, so look out for the concert review. Stay tuned.


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