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Streichquartett B-Dur, KV 458

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Length: 25'
Allegro vivace assai
Menuetto moderato
Adagio - Allegro assai

"Mozart was never less recognizable as a great man in his conversations and actions than when he was busy with an important work. Then he not only spoke confusedly, but sometimes made jokes of a kind that was not accustomed to him, and he even deliberately neglected himself in his behavior. But he didn't seem to brood or think about anything. Either he deliberately concealed his inner effort under external frivolity for reasons that could not be revealed, or he took pleasure in sharply contrasting the divine ideas of his music with the ideas of flat everyday life and delighting himself through a kind of self-irony. I understand that such a sublime artist, out of deep reverence for art, can derive and neglect his individuality, as it were."

These remarks by his brother-in-law Joseph Lange about Mozart's bizarre impulses during the composition of important works are likely to refer mainly to the operas. Mozart probably wrote his six string quartets dedicated to Joseph Haydn between 1782 and 1785 in domestic concentration. For they were the result of a "long and laborious toil", as he confessed in the dedication preface of the works to Haydn.

The series of works is divided into two groups: the earlier three quartets in G, d and Es were composed in the winter of 1782/83, the later three in B, A and C during the particularly busy winter of 1784/85. In just three months, Mozart completed three major piano concertos (K. 459, 466 and 467) and the three major string quartets (K. 458, 464, 465) – not to mention many lesser-known works. While the piano concertos were intended for his Lenten concerts in February 1785, the string quartets were written as a continuation of the first three quartets of 1782/83. Leopold Mozart found these last three works of the series easier than the first three, but no less masterful.

The fact that the B flat major quartet was given the nickname "hunting quartet" finds its rather weak justification in the horn fanfares of the main theme in the first movement and in its quasi "galloping" six-eighth time. Otherwise, it is a far more lyrical piece than the title suggests – as so often when Mozart used the key of B flat major. Just think of the great Violin Sonata in B flat major, K. 454, or the three great piano concertos in B flat major, K. 450, 456 and 595.

In all these pieces, in addition to the lyrical-vocal beauty of the themes of hunting themes and hunting fanfares, a certain role is played by what has to do with the horns of Mozart's time. The high-B horns were the radiant representatives of their guild and almost predestined to push themselves into the foreground in the fanfare sound, which they often enough did in symphonies, divertimenti and piano concertos. In the string quartet, where Mozart had no horns, he had to imitate this sound with the strings alone. This happens at the beginning of the first movement: the violins open with a formal horn call. Her "hunting theme" later also wanders into the viola and undergoes a powerful elaboration until it is displaced by an inconspicuous sixteenth figure, which puts its stamp on the further course of the movement. Another theme is added at the beginning of the development – as is so often the case when Mozart wants to make do with few motifs in the first part of a movement, but wanted to compensate the listener with a new theme in the middle section. Here is a lovely pastoral that delights us at first, but then falls over it the gloomy shadow of the key of F minor. With strong strokes, the violins wipe this shadowy episode off the table shortly before the recapitulation. The rest of the movement remains true to the bucolic mood of the beginning, until the coda unexpectedly crowns it. We hear first a harmonic irritation, then an organ point above which the hunting theme unfolds in triumphant canon. Finally, the sixteenth motif turns into a Buffonesque music that quietly steals away.
Mozart laid out the minuet here in a decidedly ceremonial manner, courtly through and through, equipped with trills and all sorts of ornaments – "stately", as the British would say. The trio is all the simpler: a Ländler of first fiddle over a springy accompaniment.
The highlight of the quartet is the magnificent Adagio in E flat major. While Mozart usually preferred the faster Andante tempo for his slow movements, here he explicitly resorted to the staying power of an Adagio, especially in E flat major, the pathetic key par excellence in Viennese Classicism. One has to do with the quartet imitation of an "air pathétique", as contemporaries called the pathetic farewell arias of the castrati in the opera seria. The first violin begins its "speech" falteringly, picking up the thread again and again, swinging upwards and then adjuvenating again. In a melancholy cantilena in C minor, she expresses the pain of parting even more clearly. A dialogue with the cello leads to a painful duet over delicate "tremblings" of the accompanying instruments. At the end, the violin starts its "Parto, parto" one last time before the movement ends haltingly in pianissimo.
The finale responds to the seriousness of this movement with an exuberant dancing mood. Three themes, all three Contretänze, form the material of the movement, which rises in between to orchestral tutti sounds. The fact that Mozart had even more in mind with the seemingly innocent themes of this finale is revealed by the development, which works through the main theme contrapuntally and harmoniously according to all the rules of art – right up to enchanting Vorhalt's turns. Even into the last bars of the movement, Mozart meticulously traced the fine nuances of his main theme.