Mozart Flute Quartet no. 2 in G, K. 285a

performed by the Nash Ensemble, or below

(cover image by Gaetano Cessati)

Mozart’s second flute quartet, in G major, was written, or at least completed, in 1778. Three of Mozart’s four flute quartets, I guess, were written for “amateur flautist Ferdinand De Jean,” including this one and the previous one, the first.

My main criticism, if it can be called that, of the first flute quartet, was that it seems that with very little adjustment, the piece could have been made into a string quartet, with the first violin taking over the flute part. This is in contrast with the oboe quartet, which really does feel like it’s a piece written specifically to feature the oboe, backed by a string trio.

Today’s piece feels… sort of the same way, that the flute part isn’t 100% convincing, except to say that it obviously does have a distinctly different feel than what a plain old string quartet would be. Worth noting, though, is that this piece feels incomplete to say the least. A look at the movements shows this:

  1. Andante, 3/4
  2. Tempo di Menuetto, 3/8

It looks like two central movements, or a central movement and a finale, with no first movement present. I just can’t say I’m all that jazzed about this piece in any specific, individual way that is…. terribly memorable. It’s pretty, no doubt, but I feel that if the role of the flute were indeed played by a violin, it would be a very mundane quartet.

The music itself is pretty enough, though, right? And this ‘just pretty’ sentiment is emphasized by the fact that the andante is solidly twice as long as the following minuet. We did say De Jean was an amateur player, so maybe he just wanted some music that was pretty, and not too complex, because the charm of this andante really is in the sweet, singing timbre of the flute rather than the actual melodic line itself, I’d say.

Or at least it feels like this movement, and the second one, too, to be honest, would benefit from the context of more substantial outer movements to complement them, pull the real weight of a composition as a whole.

The minuet is sweet, very charming, but again… these two movements feel like scraps on a cutting room floor, sketches of an idea, perhaps separate, unrelated ideas, paired together for a kind of haphazard little incomplete piece. I think I’d have lower expectations of it if this piece were just…. two pieces for flute and string trio rather than even resembling what should be a larger, more complete composition.

But then again, that criticism can sound harsh. It’s just what you’re looking for as a listener, or in this case more appropriately perhaps as a performer. If these compositions fit the bill for their dedicatee, or the circumstances, then who am I to criticize it?

This’ll be all for Mozart for now, but I am looking forward to really everything that’s next in the lineup, for his piano concertos, and sonatas, string quartets, symphonies… we’ll get there. Stay tuned for Beethoven and thanks so much for reading.

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