Mozart String Quartet no. 9 in A, K. 169

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

(cover image by Irina Blok)

Mozart’s ninth string quartet, the second of the set of six called the ‘Viennese quartets,’ was composed in (August of) 1773. (Apparently, according to some sources, the entire set of quartets was written in August, but I think this is a miscommunication.)

It, like all of the quartets in this set, is in four movements, as follows, with a duration of about 13 minutes:

  1. Molto allegro
  2. Andante
  3. Menuetto
  4. Rondeau (allegro)

The first movement opens, as we would expect, with a movement in sonata form. Naxos gives us more detail, saying that it is “in tripartite classical form,” which sounds more complicated than it really is, as “its central development section [is] introduced by a new figure … leading to a minor key version of the main theme.” So there’s just a third little part in there. It shouldn’t surprise you to know that this development is extremely brief, amounting really to little more than the main theme in the minor key, like a passing thought before the recapitulation.

The second movement, in D major, is a little more pastoral. There’s an aria-like line from violin, with a response from the cello. The remaining voices give a triple-meter background to this conversation. There are some interesting echoey passages, like ripples through the music, and, as Naxos tells us, there are some “unexpected modulations” in this five-minute movement, seeming to cover more ground than the sonata-form movement.

The third movement minuet has the two violins interacting with one another, and it too has a pastoral nature about it. Mozart seems to have an interest, at least on this day/week, with echo or imitation, as we’ve heard it a few times in this small quartet. Its strength is certainly in charm more than excitement.

The finale, even shorter than the minuet, is the shortest of the four movements, and is made up primarily of melodic lines that move downward, but it’s a rondo, so we have these quick flashes of things like the minor key, but not a ton of time to enjoy them before the rondo, and the entire quartet, are over.

This is a quick, small, charming work and while it might not seem to be all that different from the Milanese quartets, I feel it’s less ‘cute,’ although I wouldn’t necessarily describe the Milanese quartets as being such. This piece, and the one to follow (but especially this one), has charms with a bit more depth and substance. These are still early works, even though we’re almost in double digits for his quartets, and way up there already with a catalogue number of 169, although that’s nothing compared to the more than 600 he would eventually reach. He was a prodigy, yes, but he will attain much more greatness in the form than these string quartets he wrote in his teens, and I think you can see the beginning of that greatness.

We’ll be seeing much more Mozart in the coming two weeks, so we’ll get to hear the next quartet in his output next weekend, along with a number of his piano works, so please stay tuned for that, and thanks so much for reading.

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