Mozart Divertimento no. 2 in D, K. 131

performed by the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields under Sir Neville Marriner

(cover image by Chris Barbalis)

Here we are with yet another of Mozart’s very early… what shall we call these divertimenti and serenades and cassations and all the rest? Outdoor music? Background music? I don’t know. Here’s the next one.

The piece dates from 1772, and was written in Salzburg for an outdoor occasion. As we have talked about in the other articles this week, as well as years ago with Haydn, winds are good for a piece intended to be performed outdoors, and Mozart has lots of them: there’s flute, oboe bassoon, and a whole gaggle of horns, four of them. You’ll hear their glory later.

  1. (Allegro)
  2. Adagio
  3. Menuetto. – Trio I. – Trio II. – Trio III. – Coda
  4. Allegretto
  5. Menuetto. – Trio I. – Trio II. – Coda
  6. Adagio. – Allegro molto. – Allegro assai.

The entire ensemble begins the first movement, which is in a three-part sonata form and gives us repeated sections throughout. That’s okay, though, because this first movement is possessive of real drama and imagination. The opening theme is polite and soft, but conveys that subtly intoxicating perfection that we would hear in greater concentration in his later works. It’s effervescent and refreshing.

The second movement is scored for strings only. It is in A major, and calls to mind what Michael Morrison wrote about this work as a whole:

… even though Mozart doesn’t resort to distracting pyrotechnics, dynamic complexity, or surprising modulations, the Divertimento survives as a sophisticated example of a genre in which the composer demonstrated unsurpassed mastery.

The first movement was a delicious morsel of first-movement music, but this second movement bears out Morrison’s comment on sophistication. This movement, at least in Marriner’s reading, is the second-longest of the piece, and even in the largely pastoral, cool-breeze-on-a-sunny-day type atmosphere, there are still gusts of the minor key that add such beautiful and tasteful contrast to this movement without detracting from its general lightness.

This minuet may be the real gem of the work, though, because it’s a glimmering, beautiful achievement for such a young composer. It is, as you saw above, a minuet with three, count them three, trios. The minuet itself is fragrant and delightful, for strings only, but the first trio shows those four horns in all their splendor, both in how the young man wrote for them and in what kind of chops it takes to perform this little quartet passage. It’s opulent and so rich, without breaking the softness that this movement has. The second trio is for woodwinds and the third for both of the previous two groups. There is then a delightful little coda with more horns. It’s amazing that this layout is fit into such a compact little movement.

The subsequent allegretto gives the horns a rest after their great showing. There are two cadenza-like passages here, the first for flute, then violin. This may be the first place that reminds me that we’re actually listening to what is supposed to have been background music. The previous movements have been really so enjoyable that I think I would be distracted from whatever else I was supposed to have been doing. That’s not to say this movement is a failure, but it sounds to me much more like a background-music chapter. It is in Marriner’s reading the shortest movement.

The fifth movement brings us back to our four horns, who begin the second minuet. This one features this brassy quartet that really does beautiful things, but I find the ensemble passages to be clunkier than anything else here. We get two trios, in what seem like opposing groups. Both have cello and bass, but the first features flute and violin, and the second oboe and viola.

As with previous (and probably future) pieces, the final two movements, the adagio and the allegro, are tracked together in at least some if not most recordings. The horns feature again in this adagio passage. What horn players he must have had on hand for this piece.

Flute is the first to break up the horn conversation, and this adagio passage, in Marriner’s recording, lasts less than a minute, leaving the remaining 7-ish for the sonata-form allegro finale. Mozart’s use of the individual sections of the orchestra (woodwinds, brass [really just horns] and strings) is marvelous, and in a truly orchestral setting rather than in the kind of intimate chamber-like textures we’ve heard before. It’s lively and exciting, a suitable close to this really beautiful piece.

Am I just more excited about Mozart’s divertimenti and serenades than the early symphonies that date from the same time, or do they actually possess a freeness and joy that the symphonies lack? I can see how this might be the case, the works written for a festive outdoor occasion or celebration of some kind being more lively than what may have amounted to homework assignments in the composer’s earliest symphonic attempts. I don’t know. I’m not a scholar.

But that won’t stop me from continuing to write about these works. Hold onto your hats, folks, and stay tuned, because there are three more Mozart articles coming this week, and many, many more after a brief break. Thanks so much for reading.

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