Mozart’s fourth string quartet is the third of the six so-called Milanese quartets (no. 1 not included in that set). Like all the Milanese quartets, it’s in three movements, and like most of them, contains a middle movement in the minor mode. It plays for a grand total of about 10 minutes, maybe more if repeats are observed.
The fourth, like some of the other single-digit quartets, is an early work. It’s brief, simple, straightforward, nothing that’s going to change your life or move you to tears. But that’s not to belittle it. Mozart wouldn’t have been old enough at this point to get a driver’s license (in any country today, that I’m aware of), if such a thing had existed. So for such a youngster, it’s still an impressive work.
It’s in C, and the first subject of the first movement is, pleasant and melodious. All the voices can be heard simply, a delicious quartet texture. We have our two principal subjects; the score calls for the exposition to be repeated, but the Amadeus Quartet does not observe this repeat, one I would readily welcome. Instead, we go right to the development as the most interesting section, where the young composer can show his creativity. The first movement shows us a composer who already seems beyond familiar with the form of the string quartet as well as its textures and sound.
The second movement is perhaps the most mature sounding of the entire work. In the minor mode, it’s pensive and longing, and despite what a wonderful time the young composer and his papa were having in Italy, perhaps this is what homesickness sounds like as a fourteen-year-old. It’s the longest movement of the work, with depth and sensitivity.
The finale is sweet, simple, and fast, very brief, with a sixteen-bar first theme in C, then a G major passage with humorously quick sixteenth note runs before landing back at the eighth note theme that opened the movement. There are fun things in addition to the sixteenth notes, like extended, accented offbeat quarter notes that add interest and bounce to this little finale, as well as some “tag, you’re it” passages among the instruments. The whole thing is capped off with a crunchy, exciting ten-bar coda.
And that’s it. What more could you want from a string quartet? It’s not complicated, but good music doesn’t have to be. Like I said, it’s not going to give you goosebumps or change your life, but that second movement has a touching tragedy beyond the years of a fourteen year old. Contrast that with the springy finale, and it’s a delightful little ten-minute work. If you haven’t listened to the other earliest quartets, this one should tell you (if you don’t know already) that there are great things to expect from someone with such talent.
But for now, that’s all we’re getting of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. After getting through a dozen and a half of his symphonies, some piano works and just the beginning of his quartets, he’s already far and away the most featured composer on the blog for number of works presented, followed not so closely by Beethoven, but we’ll be seeing a bit more of these two fine gentlemen in the next month or more, so do stay tuned.