Mozart String Quartet no. 10 in C, K. 170

performed by the Amadeus Quartet

(cover image by Brooke Lark)

So we, uh… jump back a few important years to the tenth quartet, written in 1773. The middle of this decade is clearly a time when the composer advances noticeably in his craft. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, we move from the plain innate talent of a precocious kid with excellent circumstances to a young man who is clearly moving toward exceptionally inspired things.

This is the third of what are called the Viennese quartets. It is in four movements and has a duration of about 15 minutes, if all (or at least some) of the repeats are observed. The movements of the work are as follows:

  1. Andante
  2. Menuetto & Trio
  3. Un poco Adagio
  4. Rondeaux Allegro

The opening andante, a slightly slower marking for an opening movement, is a set of variations on a theme that bookends the movement. These qualities about the movement, that it is a theme-and-variations and that it is of a slower, more deliberate tempo, make it feel a bit like a middle movement. It’s overall pretty subdued, but with an appealing sense of humor afforded by some dramatic-seeming pauses, more like a wink after a pun. The most lively portion perhaps is the fourth variation, where the first violin appears to get in a kind of argument with the other members of the quartet, producing a lyrical statement, to which the other three reply with shaking heads.

The first movement closes with a restatement of the theme, and then we have the short, spirited minuet and trio. It has a compelling lilt to it, giving it a bit more oomph than a typical, quiet, polite minuet. The trio, though, is a bit darker than the minuet, but this whole movement, with its charming themes, comes in at under two and a half minutes.

The third movement is yet more subdued and delicate than the opening andante, as it should be. We at least had a bit of creative fun with the variations. Here, though, we have all fragrance, lightness, what to me is the most compelling content of the work so far. It’s not earth shattering, but it’s very pretty, especially the expressive viola portion in the center of the movement.

The finale, though, is what makes this work shine, closing the piece with the shortest, fastest, most brilliantly exciting music we’ve heard yet. It’s playful and carefree, exuberant, as if throwing off whatever restraint (from his father or himself) he may have had earlier in the work. It’s charming, but celebratory and humorous. As a rondo, you should be able to follow the various sections as they appear, at the very least the rondo theme itself making its appearances. What a lovely close to this otherwise only just good quartet.

I wonder if at this point Leopold is loosing the reins a bit on his young son. Their time in Vienna was in an effort to land a position with the court there, and while the 17-year-old Mozart didn’t land a composing position, he didn’t stop writing. I can see how the father may have a keen interest in what his son publishes or even just writes at the time, in an effort not only to develop the boy’s skill, but give a greater chance of obtaining some financially rewarding. Could that be part of the reason we hear Mozart maturing in this period, because his father is done giving him lessons and homework assignments and he has the freedom to do more of what he wants? I’m not a scholar or historian, so I don’t know. Maybe, but his increasing experience and maturity are certainly also a part of it.

We’re almost done with Mozart for this month, but there’s a bit more in the coming week, so do stay tuned for that and thanks so much for reading.


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