Mozart String Quartet no. 12 in B flat, K. 172

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

(cover image by Neven Krcmarek)

As discussed yesterday, Mozart’s ‘Viennese’ quartets were his second set of six (grouped together as suggested by his father), after the ‘Milanese’ quartets. Todays’ piece is the fifth of the six ‘Viennese’ quartets, and like the others, was composed in late 1773.

This piece, also like all the others in this set, is in four movements:

  1. Allegro spiritoso
  2. Adagio
  3. Menuetto
  4. Allegro assai

The entire work, in the Amadeus recording, has a duration of about 14 minutes, but the Festetics play it, with all the repeats, I’m assuming, in around 19.

Calling it ‘abrupt’ would be extreme, because it’s not that drastic, but after the four-note entry from the whole quartet, there is immediately introduced a bouncy first subject that seems unprepared, for lack of a better term. We jump right into this really lively material, fitting the ‘spiritoso’ marking. The second subject is more charming and polite, the kind of thing you’d expect from the ever-so-refined refined Classical era.

The four-chord entry makes it very easy to spot the repeat of the exposition, and these two play-throughs of the exposition take up a solid 50% of the playtime of this movement, leaving a precious 20 seconds or so for a development section, which really, again, is more just a slight diversion before that four-note figure returns to round out the movement.

The second movement is (again in the Amadeus recording) the longest of this quartet, but is really sort of the most straightforward of the work, with violin taking its little spotlight with a string trio for backup singers.

The violin graciously lets the viola take the lead in the minuet, answering to its call. It’s bouncy and dainty and charming, but the minor-key trio is at best just an aside, a clipped, staccato contrast to the minuet without being gloomy or even all that dark, really. Very tasteful.

The finale is exuberant, another small-scale sonata form instead of any sort of rondo. The first subject is really exceptionally exciting, and the second only slightly less so. This is a greatly satisfying way to end this quartet, because the work is more impressive in the context of the composer’s youth, his overall skill in the handling of the form rather than, at the risk of repeating myself, being any kind of groundbreaking work in the overall landscape of music. For the composer himself, they are great advancements from the Milanese set.

And that means now we’re more than halfway done with Mozart’s string quartet output, but fret not. We still have his trios and quintets and quartets for flute and oboe and lots else, so we’ll be seeing more of that (along with the final installment of the Viennese quartets) pretty soon. Stay tuned for that and thanks so much for reading.


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