By Matt Gabriel
Mozart String Quartet in G Major, K. 387
Mozart’s quartet in G Major, K. 387, is the first piece (of six) dedicated to his beloved teacher, Joseph Haydn. Written after studying Haydn’s contribution to the genre, Mozart expressed in an accompanying letter how much effort he put into these pieces. Unlike his earlier quartets, these “Haydn” quartets show monumental expansion in terms of structure and complexity. It would be more than two years in the composer’s short life before he was to return to this medium. Written in 1782, the first movement shows off Mozart’s aptitude for writing melodies.
To begin, the composer showcases a variety of themes and chromatic wanderings before arriving at rhetorical cadence points. What follows is a more pensive development that builds to an almost dance-like mood before a calm conclusion. The second movement, a minuet, again showcases chromatic wandering and uses imitation to build on growing textures. Incorporating a Haydn-like joke of displacing the dance’s meter, the whimsical pattern is broken up by a more serious minor-keyed trio. The first violin shines in the third movement’s Andante cantabile. Very song-like in its nature, the violin sings in both high and low registers, with only the occasional exchange with the other accompanimental instruments.
Mozart concludes with a fugal finale which many scholars have cited as a precursor to his “Jupiter” Symphony. A five-note figure develops as each instrument comes in with their imitative line, adding to an amassing texture that breaks as the instruments then go off to chase each other and explore many short themes. In such a concentrated span filled with surprise, it is fitting Mozart ends as the movement began. The mastery of unexpected wit would be Mozart’s defining characteristic with these works, and a quality he was eager to showcase to his teacher and the greater Viennese public.
Beethoven String Quartet no. 6 in B-flat Major, op. 18
Beethoven’s sixth and final string quartet from his opus 18 collection is especially rich in depth and compositional techniques, foreshadowing much of what was to come of the composer’s later two periods. Published in 1801, this piece was dedicated to Prince Lobkowitz, one of the most generous music-lovers in Vienna. Bearing the title “La Malinconia,” which is found marking the final movement, the work as a whole can be thought of as a melancholic contention between life-force and despair.
Opening with an almost opera buffa-like nature, the relative scarcity of thematic material in the Allegro con brio is offset by jarring shifts and the staccato-marked accentuation of counterpoint passed along by every instrument. The ABA form of the following Adagio in E-flat sets a mood that is shared equally among all the instruments. Dreamy yet serious, this set of subtle variations is an exploration of color and texture throughout its harmonic invention.
Juxtaposed is the Scherzo. Displaced accents, metrical ambiguity, and a trio with yet more tone shifts within an unexpected scheme, this movement is wrought with jocular innovation. Concluding the quartet, Beethoven advises the players to perform “with very great delicacy.” Dramatic changes of mood await a listener who will naturally be enthralled by the melodic melancholy of the opening episode. Chromatic drama evoking pathos is quickly shifted to moments of joyous dance-like outbursts. This dichotomy continues until the end of the piece, and the overall conclusion of Beethoven’s first submission into the relatively new genre of the string quartet.