Mozart String Quartet no. 8 in F, K. 168

performed by the Amadeus Quartet, or below by the Festetics Quartet

(cover image by Rachel Lynette French)

Well, here we are again, continuing to slog away at Mozart’s enormous catalogue of works.

Just kidding; it’s not a chore. It’s just amazing to think that he’s the second most featured composer on the blog (after our Dear Beethoven), and after more than 50 pieces of his, we’re still only dabbling around in his earliest efforts, stuff he wrote when he was still just a teenager!

That being said, we have made it to his Viennese Quartets, of which this is the first. It is so called because they were, you guessed it, written in Vienna (just as the Milanese quartets were written in Milan! Imagine that). Wikipedia tells us that the young Mozart had recently come under the spell of Haydn’s quartets, making them a strong influence on these works.

Most of this information will be repeated (hopefully with some brevity) in future articles on these pieces, but all four Viennese quartets are in four movements. We cannot actually be sure, but can suppose that Mozart intended to publish them; for whatever reason, he did not, and they were only published posthumously, in 1801, given the opus number 94. All six of the set (no’s 8 thru 13) were composed in late 1773, not really all that long after the Milanese quartets, but Wikipedia calls them “a considerable advance” on those works.

The first of this set, no. 8, is in F, with the four movements as follows:

  1. Allegro
  2. Andante
  3. Menuetto
  4. Allegro

That’s not terribly specific is it?

I feel like everyone of these articles I write about Mozart’s young works sounds the same: vague, subjective descriptors about how the music is exactly how you’d describe it without even having to listen.

The first movement has a clear exposition repeat, and without being technical at all, I’d say the biggest difference I notice in any sort of maturity (in such a short span of time, granted) is what seems a greater interest (or inkling of such) in the musical material rather than just the composer’s undeniable penchant for melody. While not expansive by any means, I do feel like this four-minute first movement covers more ground, touches on a bit more than we’ve heard in the past, but that’s really overshadowed by the depth of the second movement.

It’s case in F minor, with instruments muted, contrapuntal imitation, what more drama could you want from a five-minute andante? It gives pause, really. There’s even some thematic content borrowed from Haydn’s op. 20 no. 5. It’s really spectacular stuff. Maybe the greatest difference wasn’t any actual maturing or growth, but just a new environment and new influences. Certainly possible.

In contrast with that longest movement, we have one half the length of the first, the menuetto, a very short, cheerful movement with a B-flat major trio with a few similar elements to the andante.

The brevity of the finale, at not even two minutes long, is almost disappointing, but only because the musical material is so pristine. Naxos tells us that “The final Allegro is in fugal form, the instruments entering one after the other in descending order with the subject.” It’s exhilarating! This strikes me as a wonderful example of how something that, when described on paper could sound academic or formulaic, but it’s extravagant and rich and energetic when treated this way. It’s just brilliant.

And just like that, it’s over. We’ve got five more in this set, again all from 1773, and then we jump ahead to his next set, confusingly referred to as the ‘Haydn quartets,’ from more than a decade later, in 1785. I am looking forward to getting there, but at this rate, it’ll be some time before we see those. No rush, though, right?

Stay tuned for an article later today where I’ll be introducing what July ’18 has in store for us. It’s always a special themed month (’17 was opera, ’16 was music from Darmstadt, ’15 was all solo piano music, one piece a day, every day of the month), so I’m looking forward to that. Thanks so much for reading.

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