W. A. Mozart String Quartet No. 3 in G, K. 156

performed by the Amadeus Quartet

and movement 2 and movement 3 respectively, or in a complete performance here (with the score) that is also very nice

And now we’ll jump back more than two hundred years before last week’s quartet installments for something seemingly out of place. For one, I couldn’t let a month of violin writing go by without letting a Mozart or Beethoven or someone get a little mention, and second… you’ll see why in the next few days, but it’s going somewhere. So… Hello Wolfie, it’s been too long.

The second of the six Milanese quartets (remember, no. 1 didn’t get grouped into any group of quartets), no. 3 in G was written at the end of 1772. It’s in three movements.

  1. Presto
  2. Adagio
  3. Tempo di minuetto

The first movement of the three I find to be the most enjoyable. Marked presto, it’s charming and lively, with a liveliness in the quartet, crisp, with a repeated exposition that totals nearly half the first movement’s less-than-three minutes. It’s a brisk, waltz-like feel, polite and prim and proper, with its two subjects, but once we hit the development as brief as it is, things get noticeably jumbled and broken down. It’s nothing epic, lasting just over 20 seconds before the recapitulation, so it may not go far, but it does go… there’s some sense of distance and returning, and remember, Mozart was still in his teens at this point… What were you doing on vacation in your teens?

The tempo marking of the second movement is adagio, but it’s really very slow, enough that eighth notes on the offbeats show up and feel well-placed, and even 64th notes appear a few times. The slow movement with lots of minor harmonies sounds not troubled or heartbroken; those are emotions slightly too big for the scope of this work. Rather, it’s melancholy, tender, not entirely resolved to being ‘sad’, and the first have is more nostalgic than melancholy, but the second half makes way for more plaintive expression, and some bolder swells from the lower members of the quartet. There are some call and answer passages between the two violins, and overall, it’s a mature-sounding movement, with convincing management of tension and emotion for such a young composer. But it is Mozart. There’s something operatic about some of the lines here, they sing dramatically, and yet all of this is quite well-contained in a pretty small movement. I feel like there’s content here that the older Mozart could have put to use in a ten- or twelve-minute movement of a symphony, on the rare occasion he did write such a long movement, but here we are still small and compact.

The final movement in this quartet is a minuet, with repeats, and a more shadowy trio section. It doesn’t have the brisk infectious brightness of the first movement, instead replaced with a kind of quaint charm in the outer sections. The trio is a nice little contrast. I like that, but I feel it’s the least compelling of the three movements.

But then again, still in the earliest of the quartets from the youngster. We haven’t even gotten to the good stuff. Like I said at the beginning of the month, I’d originally intended to make August a month of contrast with such modern stuff from July and decided to feature tons of stuff from Mozart and Louis Spohr, but then decided against it. Well, here he is still, in a last minute change of plans that does have purpose, which you’ll have to stay tuned to see. We have another quartet tomorrow as a kind of lead-in to what’s coming next month, something I’m very excited about, so keep an eye out in September!


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