Viola is a wonderful instrument. It's the alto voice in the string realm. It is a brilliant instrument in its darkness and restrained sound. Mozart loved it and he wrote some sublime, magnificent and superb music, like the Symphonie Concertante (for many violist the work for the instrument), the String Quintets (the most beloved music to honour the players) and the wonderful Trio for Clarinet, Viola and Piano. In the concerto field, Bartok's Concerto is the most demanding and complex work for any violist and a brilliant work to follow. Walton's is a marvellous work too.
The String Quintets, as I claimed before, "herald" (the early response) the Late String Quartets by Beethoven, Kev. For me and at least to the players I know, they are, "equally" but in a different way, profound. Beethoven expands the territory going as far as he gets. Mozart is tight but extremely eloquent and expressive. Maybe, in terms of inventiveness, audacity and a very original cosmposition form, Beethoven goes much further. However, Mozart is always clear to his message, bold and poignant accordingly and his compositional form represents the summit or even the ideal of perfection.
As for the performances, from the modern ones The Prazak on Praga is the one to go for an almost perfect SACD sound and a very spirited and faithful to the letter approach. From the older ones, the Italiano, the Hungarian, the Vegh and, to some extent, the Talich are sure winners. We should not forget the Lindsays too. There are plenty individual performances for the different quartets, e.g. the op. 18, 4 in c minor (the only c minor work by Beethoven in playful and happy mood) and the op. 95 in f minor (a concise but magnificent Quartet in the Opus of Beethoven) are served, in the best possible way, by the Parkanyi Quartet, in a live recording on Praga.
Kev, I didn't quite get this thing about "Does this seating plan go back to Mozart's days?" If you mean how the players are seated when they perform, the reply is "yes": the two violins are on the left (the first violin is on the extreme left), then the two violas (the first is on the left) and the cello follows to the extreme right. Sometimes (not often), for reasons of balance, the cello might be in the middle, surrounded by the two violins and the violas.
Vic, I'm in full agreement about the hi-fi. I spent a lot of time and money setting mine up in the 90s but it's been worth every penny. I would say that brass, wind and piano are almost indistiguishable from the real thing but string instruments seem to have a timbre that hi-fi can't quite capture.
Parla, thanks for more thoughts that I will add to my 'to do' list. I was wondering if the positioning of musicians in an ensemble evolved in a chaotic way, or if composers such a Mozart gave written or oral instructions as to their position. (I've checked the Grumiaux Quintets and the cello is at the far right).
To veer slightly - with solo stereo piano recordings, I perceive that I am looking at the player's back, because higher notes come from right of centre and lower notes from left of centre. I'm curious to know how this came about.
guillaume, are you aware that your post is blank except for the quotes?
'After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music'.
Aldous Huxley brainyquote.com
The quote from Deryck Cooke couldn't be more accurate, apt and insightful as for violas grave importance and contribution to the music of Mozart' String Quintets.
However, all five instruments have a superb and unique role to play in building up these masterpieces of a summit of perfection.
Are there degrees of profoundness? Are the Beethovens more profound than the Mozarts?
For me they are, by a significant margin, but I don't have the musical language to say why.
I'm thinking that when when people say music is 'profound', they mean that it stirs emotions not adequately describable in words. I doubt that anyone knows for sure but it's fun speculating. I've just found a book called an introduction to a philosophy of music by Peter Kivy. It may be outside of my intellectual scope but I'll see if I can find a fun quote.
Good luck with that Kev.
When you've ploughed through it give us a fifty-word precis with that pithy quote - if you can find one.
Whilst you're doing that, I'll listen again the the Mozart Quintets. I bet you will be asleep before me.
[And before you jump in Parla, no I'm really not knocking academic study, and yes I know its value, and yes I do think the MQs are great - by both our definitions. There, that's saved you 400 words and twenty minutes of your life.]
Very thoughtful of you, Vic. I'm extremely busy these days, by the way.
As for the definition of "profoundness", Kev, I believe it has to do with the different levels of the expressive power of music in question. Despite any work, particularly in Classical Music, has various layers of going through, a Rossini Overture is predominantly fun music. A Piano Sonata by Haydn might show a sense of wit, humour and heartfelt emotions. However, a Beethoven's Late String Quartet is a true multi-faceted work, both in terms of the musical structure and in its expressive power.
So, Mozart's String Quintets have this sort of magical or miraculous power to give you food for multiple thought, perception and a deep comprehension of the different ramifications of these works.
Thanks gents. Apropos the other thread about women an hi-fi - Mrs Kev heard these quintets briefly the other day and declared them 'nice and crisp'. Not bad for someone not interested in classical music.
Religious or not, no doubt that Mozart got closer to the sublime or divine than any other composer when writing this music. I only recently discovered it (thanks to parla) but these 6 Quintets have got to be the most rewarding listening experience available. The dialogue between cello and other strings in the opening of K593 send shivers down my spine.
Very well and eloquently said, Kev and HMV.
I'm so happy you two found such pleasure and spiritual returns in these unique works of Classical Music. Perhaps Mozart was really beloved by God (Amadeus), in one or the other way.
If you really found them such a rewarding listening experience, try, by all means, the "Seven Last Words of Our Saviour on the Cross" of the other Classical Great, Joseph Haydn, in the String Quartet version predominantly (despite all the four are necessary). I have initiated a thread on it. You may visit it, if you wish.
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.
Mozart's first string quintet is nowhere near the level of the later ones; he was only 17 when he wrote it and it's no great shakes even beside the other music he was writing at the time. One other, the C minor, is a transcription made solely to accompany the C major and G minor quintets, three or six being the norm. Which leaves only three and a half sublime masterpieces. The half? The last in E flat major. The late Hans Keller said of this work; "(it) sounds like a bad arrangement of a wind piece in mock-Haydn style and is strictly unplayable in that it cannot be rendered in tune". I can hear what he means in the first movement, which sounds distinctly weird , but not in the others - even Keller acknowledges that the slow movement is sublime. So what do others think of these works?
Sorry for the very late reply but, having long been excluded from this forum (for purely technical reasons) only now have I found a (albeit inconvenient) mode of circumventing this.
With all due respect to you, Guillaume, and the late Hans Keller, allow me to disagree and underscore the following points concerning the "two and a half" undervalued String Quintets:
- The First String Quintet in B flat, K.174 is an early work of 1773 by the divine prodigy as well as some of other superb scores of the time, like his greatest Symphony of the youth, namely the one in g minor, K.183 (the only minor mode Symphony apart from the glorious 40th, in the same key), the very intelligent String Quartets K168-173, under the inspired influence of Haydn, and his (truly) First Piano Concerto K.175 (with an impressive orchestration, heralding the ones to follow only at the very end of his career).
The First String Quintet is the most elaborated, brilliantly developed work of the youth period and a strong competitor of all the works of the other periods of Wolfgang. It's a quite complex work but with youthful freshness. It contains an incredible number of themes, expanded and developed with full of new (for Mozart) ideas and vitality (see First Movement). The Adagio, in his beloved E flat, is one of th loveliest slow movements from early Mozart, where the the two violins and violas, playing softly, perform as a wonderful foil for the cello. The Minuet is full of wit and vivaciousness, with a very well developed Trio constituting a charming exploitation of the new genre, while the Finale is a movement of exhilarating verve and inventiveness.
-The Second String Quintet, K.406 is indeed a transcription of the Wind Serenade K.388. However, what is strikingly interesting and impressive is the fact that, if you don't know or ever listened to the Wind Serenade, you will never guess the K.406 is a transcription; it sounds as a perfectly original composition for the medium. The use of the five String instruments is amazingly idiomatic. Besides, the original Serenade is considered as the "most un-serenade-like of Serenades", due to its very sombre and solemn key of c minor. Therefore, Mozart, most probably wanted to recast it to a more elevated medium.
The work is an immense masterpiece, second to none of the later works of the great composer. It illustrates Wolfgang's supreme genius, with some moving strokes as the intensification of the lyrical E flat second theme in the recapitulation of the First Movement.
-The last String Quintet in E flat is considered the other one in the "pair" of K.593 and they both were heralded as the two "miracles" of Chamber Music, that made their splendid appearance in December 1790 and April 1791 (Marc Vignal : "Haydn and Mozart", 2001"). I don't know in which way Keller can explain that the work sounds (!) like a "bad arrangement of a wind piece" (!!) in "mock-Haydn style" (?) and "is strictly unplayable" (!!!).
The work is performed regularly without any player's complains for "unplayable" notes or sections of the work. The fact that the two violas imitate hunting horns at the outset of the First Movement, as an evocation of the chase, can hardly make the work look as an arrangement of a (non-existing) wind piece. The Quintet is the most Haydnesque work of his maturity, but I can't see in which way Mozart is mocking his great Master, whom admired and revered so much (in any case, Haydn has mocked himself much more in his numerous works). One of the fascinating features in this full of "joie de vivre" score is the subtle balance between the popular, almost bucolic, character and a natural Mozartian grace and refinement.
Just for the record,
I suggest that readers compare the last post, signed "parla," with Richard Wigmore's notes to the Hyperion set of the Mozart String Quintets. These notes are easily accessible online at Hyperion's website.
Thank you. The Wigmore essay is infromative.
Parla, I too disagree with Keller as to Mozart's last quintet; in fact, it's probably my favourite. I was just wondering if other forum members heard anything untoward in it. Apparently not, as yours is the only reply.
As for the quintet derived from the wind serenade, your comments could apply to many a skilled transcription. Speaking personally, knowing and loving the wind serenade, I'm not interested in the string quintet.
Which leaves the first quintet in B flat. I'm sorry Parla but this just isn't anywhere near the quality of his later works in the genre, though I too rather like the slow movement. In the interminable, not to say intolerable, objectivity v. subjectivity thread, you cited the gap between Beethoven's 1st and 9th Symphonies in evidence; i.e. the 9th is clearly superior. But the gulf between Beethoven's 1st and 9th symphonies is less than that between Mozart's 1st string quintet and his later ones, because Beethoven was much nearer musical maturity when he wrote his 1st Symphony than Mozart was when he wrote that quintet.