Divertimento in D Major K. 136
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Quartet op. 5 no. 5b in G minor
Franz Xaver Richter
II. Allegro Spiritoso
III. Andantino Grazioso
IV. Tempo di Minuetto
Quartet op. 20 no. 1 in E-flat Major
I. Allegro Moderato
II. Menuetto un poco Allegretto
III. Affettuoso e sostenuto
What was en vogue in 1772 Europe? Hoop skirts of unspeakable proportions, elaborate hairstyles that sometimes depicted current events, three-cornered hats, Revolutionary ideas…and in music, a form that had recently won over Austria and was now sweeping through the rest of Europe: the string quartet. The string quartet was born in large part from the Austrian tradition of the divertimento, a genre that encompassed a variety of instrumentations but excluded continuo. Divertimenti were generally lighthearted and harmonically straightforward, and could be performed either as orchestra or chamber music depending simply on how many instrumentalists were involved. In the mid-1700s, chamber performances of four-part divertimenti constituted the very first public appearances of what would soon become known as the “string quartet.” Our 1772 program highlights an extraordinary year in string quartet history, when the form still had strong ties to the divertimento but was also blossoming into its own deeply complex and wildly popular genre.
The program opens with 16-year-old Mozart’s ever-beloved Divertimento in D Major, a piece that highlights the surviving intersection between divertimento and string quartet performance. Later in 1772, with this and the other two “Salzburg” Divertimenti fresh in his memory, Mozart would begin composing his first full set of string quartets.
Mozart met Moravian church composer Franz Xaver Richter several times throughout the 1770s, and would joke in a 1778 letter to his father that the composer “has now restricted himself very much; instead of forty bottles of wine a day, he only drinks twenty!” Despite Mozart’s gibe, other letters reveal that he greatly respected Richter’s music and was no doubt familiar with the older man’s string quartets.
A true pioneer, Richter wrote his Six Quartets op. 5 in the tender year of 1757, making them one of the earliest sets of string quartets ever composed. The set was finally published in 1768 and experienced enough popularity to be reprinted in 1772 in Paris, evidence of the genre’s increasing demand outside of Austria. The G minor Quartet on our program, dubbed “no. 5b,” is of somewhat mysterious origins, having suddenly replaced one of the original 1757 quartets in the 1772 publication. Likely written sometime between 1768 and 1772, it is the only one of Richter’s seven total quartets to include four movements (like Haydn’s quartets) instead of three movements (like most divertimenti). Throughout this work appears ample evidence of divertimento-style writing, such as the unison presentation of the second movement theme, but also examples of the unconventional craftsmanship that was beginning to define string quartet music, such as the cello or viola taking a rare moment in the melodic spotlight.
At the forefront of such innovation was Joseph Haydn, whose 1772 op. 20 string quartets secured him a reigning position in the history of the form. The harmonic and instrumentational creativity of these quartets would pave the way for Haydn’s later groundbreaking opuses, not to mention the great quartets of Mozart and Beethoven. Opus 20 was the most exciting example to date of the string quartet diverging from other genres and becoming something truly its own. The E-flat Major Quartet on this program, crowned by its breathtakingly beautiful slow movement, must have floored its first audience in 1772. Exactly 250 years later, we celebrate not only the momentousness of this work, but also the rich tradition surrounding its inception.
Natalie Kress, Violin/Viola
Aniela Eddy, Violin/Viola
Rebecca Norton, Violin/Viola
Cullen O’Neil, Cello