Mozart's String Quintets

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Mozart's String Quintets

Haydn and Mozart attract some parallel between the originality of each other, while there are also other similarities between these two composers of genius. However, there is one genre, where Haydn, the great creator of so many new forms (like the String Quartet and the Piano Trio, where he excelled), did not touch at all, namely the String Quintet (either for two violins, two violas and one cello or one viola and two cellos). On the contrary, the Six Quintets occupy a paramount place in Mozart's magnificent output.

When Mozart came to compose these six magnificent works, the genre was still in its infancy. Boccherini came into this, by composing over a hundred of such works, in different instrumentations apart the classic one (two violins, two violas and a cello). Michael Haydn composed some less important Quintets too.

Apart from the youthful First complex Quintet in B flat, K.174 (1773) and the Second in c minor K.406 (which is a transcription of the wonderful Serenade K.388), the rest of them appear later on in his formidable Opus. It is the great year 1787, when the first two superb late String Quintets (in C major, K.515, and in g minor, K. 516) came to life. Then, in 1789-1790, the two wonders of Chamber Music, namely the Quintet in D major, K. 593, and the last one in his beloved E flat, K. 614, made their splendid appearance. They constitute, beyond any doubt, the outcome of such effort and work on the composer's part. By the pressence of an additional viola, the form provides a wider scope and a more complete as well as ample sound - an early outline of the romantic ideal, later transcended so effectively and with utmost beauty and craft by Brahms or Reger.

Without any obvious difficulty, the divine composer indulges in this unexplored form of composition with a profoundly dramatic musicality, a feeling of musical colour and a quality of the most refined tone, full of the most subtle nuances. In this genre, the wunder Wolfgang has actually achieved to square the circle; he attained the impossible, for over and above the principle of the form itself: he reveals to us an ability to transcend in such a way that is close to the human voice thanks to the way he uses the five instruments, being so capable of expressing the most intimate detail of the innermost emotions. In this way, a poignant tune will touch us fleetingly, a tender melody will charm, a harmony of joy will stir us, while time and space no longer matter.

Are these out of this world works known to you? If yes, which are your thoughts, views and the emotions created by listening to them? Hopefully, we may touch upon each one of them gradually.



RE: Mozart's String Quintets

Hi Parla,


No, they are not well known to me, but I've been guided well by you before - the Hagen Quartet's recordings of the Mozart String Quartets have done many rounds on my turntable since you recommended them to me, but in particular the Nash Ensemble's recording of  the 2 masterful Piano Quintets have been a great discovery. This music ought to be much better known (as you've often advocated ). I find that  Herr Mozart's gifts truly come to the fore when there's a piano involved; whether we are talking the concertos, the aforementioned piano quintets, the violin sonatas (Kagan/Richter). Which recordings of the String Quintets would you recommend? Amadeus?


Furthermore, I've been listening to Haydn's Piano trios all weekend, and now want to explore the Mozart. To whom should I turn? Beaux Arts? Florestan.


Many thanks for your advice.

RE: Mozart's String Quintets

Thanks for your consideration of my "guidance" on Mozart's Chamber Music.

I have to inform you, despite all the strength and immense value of Mozart's String Quartets, the String Quintets go far beyond them. You should try them, in different recordings, if possible (there are few, anyway), and in repeated and extensive listening. In this case, you will be amazed at the fact that Wolfgang's "gifts truly come to fore" even when a piano is not involved. Actually, these works sound (and are) better than almost anything else he had composed, at least in the genre of Chamber Music.

For recordings, there are few and only some can do enough justice to these extremely difficult to be appropriately performed unique works. I think, in mid-price, the Grumiaux trio (with guests) is a safe choice (on Philips, if it's still available, in any form) along with the quite solid Talich Quartet on Caliope. The best but very expensive (now it has been deleted and you have to get it as a collectible) is with the Fine Arts Quartet on the French Lyrinx. The Amadeus is good but it doesn't give all the nuances and colours of these multi-faceted works.

I guess the works you praise a lot are the two Piano Quartets by Mozart and not the Piano Quintets (since he didn't compose any). I'm thrilled you called them a "discovery". The are not such easy stuff to be appreciated properly.

As for Das wunder Kind Piano Trios, I believe the recording of the Haydn Trio Eisenstadt on Capriccio is the best, in any way (performance, recording, quality production values). The Guarneri Trio on Praga Digitals is quite good, in a very bright recording, in the usual standards of this superlative label. The Beaux Arts is always a safe choice, but their recording is not the best in terms of production values. The Florestan is lower than the above.

Many thanks for your genuine interest.


RE: Mozart's String Quintets

For me, the string quintets, along with the piano concertos (at least from, say, K449 onwards), the Da Ponte operas and the C minor Mass, are the cornerstones of Mozart and amongst the finest works in classical music. Perhaps the Clarinet Quintet and Clarinet Concerto could be squeezed in there too.

I got to know the quintets while laid-up, recovering from surgery a few years back, listening to them again and again on headphones. They all reward study, so different one from another. Probably most people, me included, if pressed would pick the 'Heavenly Twins' - K516 and K515 - as their favourites. K516 is, like the piano concertos K466 and K491, a work to set in front of those people who believe Mozart is all frilly bits and lightness. It is an absolutely desolate work, an example of great art arising out of despair and introspection. K515 is almost its antithesis, Mozart at his most objective and vital with just the tiniest hint of sadness in the menuetto. Hearing them one after the other, you marvel at the man's genius.

I only know the Grumiaux and Talich recordings. Both have much to say. My Grumiaux set came at bargain price with the Divertimento K563. The recording over-highlights Grumiaux's violin on my system, I have to knock the treble way back. Calliope give Talich a more refined, less 'stagey' recording, rather in keeping with the performances. Oddly, in K515 Grumiaux plays the andante second, the menuetto third. It's the other way round in the Talich recording and that's the way I prefer it.

RE: Mozart's String Quintets

While I can agree with your initial assessment of Mozart's work, I believe that the String Quintets go beyond than any other work of this genius, something like the Late String Quartets by Beethoven or the late Piano Sonatas of Schubert. They constitute the "first" and the "complete" in this genre, since no composer, afterwards, managed to compose something even close to them (see Beethoven's String Quintets). The closest seem to be the two Quintets of Mendelssohn, particularly the one in B flat, and, to a great extent, Brahms String Quintet in G major, op. 111. However, they can never reach the heights of Mozart's compositional greatness.

For the players and some experts, the two most miraculous, true wonders of Chamber Music, are the K.516, in the crucial key of g minor (the key of death and absolute despair or pain, which Wolfgang visited only twice in his Chamber Music and twice in his Symphonies as well as in Don Giovanni) and the next in D major, K.593 (a very unusual work, in structure and power of expression). One of the most prestigious String Quartets of the present time, namely the superb Prazak Quartet has recorded "live" these two, on the best label of Chamber Music, that is Praga Digitals. Don't miss it! It's a must and a true gem, revealing to the highest the enormous beauty and the different aspects and nuances of these two magnificent works.

Finally, Tagalie, in the Fine Arts recording as well as in the newest of the Nash Ensemble on Hyperion (not that bright), the second movement of the K.515 is the Andante, which, actually it was the original version. Apparently, the Talich opted for some later edition.


RE: Mozart's String Quintets

I not sure which thread is the home tothe discussion about K516 and the quality of the quintets seeing as comments (my own included) appear in at least three threads. But since this is the one named Mozart's String Quintets, this will be home.

Encouraged by Parla I dug out a recording of K516. (I grew up on the Melos/DG version but sadly that has ben in storage for about ten years, together with what I now consider my first collection, not to be confused with my current stack!) There is very little I can add than to say that as the music came back into view I was truck by how profound and moving this music is. There is a lot of nonsense written and believed about Mozart and one day spent in Salzburg, with chocolate boxes and bewigged buskers is enough to turn the stomach - Sacher Torte it is not! While I cannot fully agree regarding the works that most define Mozart's genius certainly the quintets and in particular K516 is a work of profound art. Yes there is great sadness (and various sources suggest that this work is in part linked to the death of Mozart's father and the composer's reaction, given the chronology of event and composition).

The issue of the order of the internal movements is not somethin I was previosuly aware of but the other, much more well known example of this issue is the middle two movements of Mahler Six. I cannot speak from a musicological perspective but my feeling has always been that what is important is no so much the order as the ability of the performer(s) to make the order work. Where there is some abiguity (as seems to be the case here) surely a musician makes their choice out of conviction and thus it is essential that they pursue their conviction in performance, placing the parts in a whole. I firmly believe that in the realm of tonal music the last note lies within the first, so to speak. The performer shapes the arc that the composer intended in such a way that there is some form of 'narrative'. If you switch the order of movements it may either illuminate or impede the narrative, but a great performance will still expose a truth of the work. (Sanctmonious clap trap finishes here poor reader.)

While I would agree regarding the Da Ponte operas I have always marvelled at Mozart's skills in bringing La Clemnza di Tito to the stage. Given great singers it is the finest opera seria I know and transcends the type. It is the perfect example of 'late style' in the meaning of the writer Edward W. Said.


RE: Mozart's String Quintets RE: Mozart's String Quintets

naupilus wrote:
...I was struck by how profound and moving this music is. particular K516 is a work of profound art.

What do you mean by 'profound' in this context?




RE: Mozart's String Quintets

Agree with you re. Clemenza, naupilus. As regards movement order, I'm not so sure. You'd think the order we'd been used to would explain our preference. For instance, if you got to know Mahler 6 via Bernstein you'd want the scherzo second. But in the case of K516 I knew the Grumiaux recordings long before the Talich. Nevertheless I much prefer the latter's ordering.

I saw the reference to Mozart's quintets on other threads. Thought for a minute there was going to be another rocky debate but I might know where you're coming from, Parla. It you're saying the Mozart quintets, at least the last two, look forward to late Beethoven quartets, I'd certainly echo that at least in one particular. They have that same 'other worldly' quality, almost as if the composer is talking to us from beyong the grave in a language we don't yet know. All very fanciful (let's light more joss sticks and get going here) but it's a similar sensation to that evoked by K595. Late Mozart, the Magic Flute for instance, seems to want to move beyond this world.

Surprised that in the context of quintets nobody has mentioned - or maybe I missed it - Schuberts great essay in this format. Worthy to rank alongside Mozart's imho.

RE: Mozart's String Quintets

Tagalie, to make myself more clear, I believe all six are equivalent to the "late String Quartets" by Beethoven and definitely the last four. Even the First (composed at the early age of 17) is a much complex, brilliant and of considerable structural depth work, much greater than practically anything else he wrote that period. The Second is a transcription of the Serenade K.388, but it has been so marvelously reworked that it sounds much more serious, deeper in the different layers of expression and more skillful as for the use of the instruments involved.

As for Schubert, he composed only one String Quintet, this superb in C major, at the very end of his life, but with the less usual instrumentation of two violins, one viola and two celli (I mentioned it in my introduction). Definitely, it's the best example of this form of String Quintet and a unique, magnificent and profound in its development and structure work. However, I am not that sure this Quintet, despite its immense qualities, can work and be as effective as, at least, Mozart's K.516 or K.593.


RE: Mozart's String Quintets





Mozart's string quintets,
particularly the big four, are extraordinary works indeed and the K.515 is,
imo, one of his best chamber works together with the Puchberg Trio
(Divertimento) K. 563 and the Piano Quartet n.2 K. 493 (and if it could be
classified as such: the Serenade n. 10 -
Gran Partita). However I would't say they rank among the best from WA's
output: I feel that the best Mozart is found in his choral works and operas:
here he seems to be at easy and really excels himself. Perhaps, historical
aspects behind his production can support this, but this is subject for another

As we know, this genre or formation
practically begun w/ Michael Haydn (influenced Mozart's first, it seems) and
was long associated with Boccherini and, in this context, J. Haydn when was
asked why he didn’t write any he replied: “ ......’cause no one demanded!” Boccherini
 wrote more than 120 (most for two cellos
though). Mozart took this genre to another level and I read somewhere that the
Mozar's predilection for this formation could be explained from  the fact that he used to play the viola in
those musical meetings (Brahms had a certain taste for this instrument too). It
is an open question if WAM was equaled or surpassed in this regard: perhaps
not: Beethoven wrote some but not on par w/ LvB’s best works, the superb
Schubert’s string quintet is for two cellos, Brahms’ and Mendelssohn’s (no. 2) are
the only that come to mind that can be compared to Mozart’s. Recently we have few
samples from the writtings of one Martinu and....who else (Reger only wrote piano and clarinet quintets if I mistake not)?

Parla, who started this thread asks
how we see/feel those works. To sum up:formal aspects carried to perfection showing strong signs of
the era that was to come in classical music. He properly mentioned and relatively compared the significance of those works in Mozart's production to that of the late string quartets in Beethoven's output. Another link between those splendid works could be:as Mozart's string quintets signal the
arrival of the romantic period, LvB’s late string quartets reveal, in my
view, Herr Beethoven’s attempt to get
over it.

As to recordings, Talich SQ & Rehak’s
reading on Calliope, as mentioned above, is my favourite. That recording sort
of succeeds in combining technical and artistical aspects. The others mentioned
are good too, I suppose. However, I got a good tip from reliable source of another
recording of those works: Griller String Quartet & W. Primrose (viola) on Vanguard
(2cds). Those who knows those readings may chime in and confirm its qualities (or not). I’ve
already ordered them anyway.

RE: Mozart's String Quintets

This is a world all new to me, so I'm reading the various comments with great interest not being able to contribute much myself.

Just ordered the Talich recording of the String Quintets, supplemented by K516 and K593 with the Prazak, on Parla's recommendation. I threw in the Prazak's recording of 3 'Haydn' Quartets. I was also trying to find the Piano Trios with the Haydn Trio Eisenstadt (again a recommendation) but was unsuccessful. It strikes me how unavailable this music is - in order to assemble the above purchase order (+ a bit more) I had to negotiate my way between, .fr, and .de. , and still I think I bought most of the stuff secondhand. A seller on .fr is offering all the 'Haydn' Quartets with the Prazak but at considerable outlay, so I declined.

In order to keep costs down I left Gulda's Mozart tapes on the shelf, as that'll probably be available after next pay day as well. As far as the above recordings are concerned, I wouldn't be so sure. It's a separate issue, I know, but my purchasing pattern has changed in favour of recordings which are likely soon to be unavailable. (I am left with only about half of the totality of the Bach cantatas and few Beethoven String Quartets, on account of taking my eyes off the ball!). Is nobody managing this heritage of humanity?



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