THE STRING QUARTETS OF MOZART
 
Source for notes: The String Quartet, A History by Paul Griffith, Thames and Hudson, 1983
 

1. The composer most influenced by the quartets of Haydn (particularly the Op.33) was Johann Chrysostom Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791).

2. The 26 string quartets of Mozart may be divided into two basic groups: the 16 written between 1770-73 (K.s 80, 136-138, 155-160, and 168-173) and the 10 quartets composed in 1782-90, consisting of the 6 dedicated to Haydn, one dedicated to F.A. Hoffmeister K.499, and the so-called Prussian quartets (K. 575, 589, and K. 590).

3. Of the early quartets of Mozart, (1770-73) 10 are three movement works in an Italian style.

4. The quartets K. 168-173 (pre 1773) are Viennese in style and reflect Mozart's acquaintance with Haydn's op. 17 and op. 20 quartets. Each of these works has four movement with Minuet. there is considerable use of counterpoint, resulting in greater independence of parts and more importance accorded the three lower pitched instruments. K. 168 and K. 173 have fugal last movements.

5. There are written records of the two composers participating in performances of the Haydn op.33 together. Although likely apocryphal, the story goes that Haydn and von Dittersdorf played the violin parts, Mozart the viola (his favorite quartet instrument) and Vanhal the cello. (Incidentally: just this semester (F'05), I heard a performance of Johann Vanhal's Symphony #6 in Bb major on XM-radio and was astonished by the quality performance of a truly lyrical and beautiful work - planning to obtain some Vanhal).

6. Mozart responded by beginning his 'Haydn Quartets' in 1782 (those he dedicated to the older composer). they are: 1. K.387 G major, 2. K. 421 D minor, 3. K. 428 Eb major, K. 464 A major, and K. 465 C major. They were published in Austria as his op.10 in 1785 and dedicated to Haydn and in Mozart's own handwriting declared to be "the fruits of long and laborious endeavor".

7. The fact that Mozart spent two years on the 6 works (as compared to 6 weeks for the last three and perhaps greatest of his symphonies #'s 39, 40, & 41) is testament to the care he lavished on them.

8. There are two homages in these works - a minuet in the Eb quartet which mirrors Haydn's in the same key, and the final variations of the D minor which reinterpret the theme of the G major variations at the end of the Haydn op.33 #5.

9. The new way of counterpoint that Haydn had initiated in the op.33, a freer treatment with less reliance on old contrapuntal devices, with a true conversational style wherein the melody becomes transformed by the various quartet members as they pick up the line, is borne with complete dedication in these six quartets. They are some of the finest examples of his genius. They are models of restraint and subtlety, and more chromatic than his other works of the period, and in general.

10. The K.465 in c major, known famously as 'the dissonant' quartet is celebrated for its introductory passage which inspired the name. Extreme harmonic uncertainty which contrasts so vividly with the brilliant, most Haydn-like C major allegro which follows, possibly finds its source in the 'wrong key' predilections of Haydn.

11. While it is very difficult to discover the exact influence, Mozart imitated his mentor's methods of thematic presentation. Haydn's method was to take an idea and develop it into a large paragraph or even an entire movement. Mozart's was to juxtapose deeply, contrasting ideas at both the level of phrase and paragraph. while this may seem more contradictory than similar, it is in the handling of thematic material with such flexibility and continued nuance that links the two composers.

12. This new polyphony of equal but different partners was the great advance of Haydn's op.33 and Mozart's 'Haydn Quartets', and had far-reaching consequences not just for the string quartet but for the whole nature of musical composition in allowing composers to deal with parts that are, as stated, equal but different.