The Quartet for oboe, violin, viola and cello, K370, dates from early 1781, when Mozart was staying in Munich to complete his opera Idomeneo and to be present at its first performances. The opera had occupied much of his time over the winter months and as a consequence he only composed a small number of other works during this period.
K370 was written for Friedrich Ramm, principal oboist in the Elector of Bavaria’s orchestra and an outstanding instrumentalist, renowned for the beauty and variety of his tone and the expressiveness of his playing. These qualities enabled Mozart to compose a work which, while giving due prominence to the oboe, avoids mere display and encompasses a wide range of feeling. This is particularly noticeable in the Adagio, an aria-like movement in D minor, only 37 bars long but deeply expressive. The Rondo finale contains a remarkable passage of thirteen bars where the oboe plays in 44 time against the continued 68 accompaniment. The tension created by this rhythmic conflict combined with the minor mode is relieved only when the tonic major key and compound time return together in the middle of a semiquaver passage for the oboe. The final section of the Rondo makes full use of the instrument’s higher range and the work ends in cheerful mood.