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Quintet for Piano andWinds, K. 452 73:26

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the work Mozart claimed in 1784 as his best to date, the Quintet for Piano and Winds, K. 452. Given the novel forces assembled, four single wind instruments (oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn) and piano, it shows particularly clearly one of his fundamental textural predilections, namely the permutation of material. Mozart is never happier than when working in what might be termed an antiphonal field, in which various strands of a total texture can be rearranged or reallocated in numerous ways. This will often take on a concertante character, involving relatively formal alternations of material at the level of the phrase or period. In K. 452, though, the breathing requirements ofwinds as well as their inherent differences of timbre promote a more intricate interaction. Rather than a whole (melodic) unit being carried by one player, it is more characteristic for it to be completed by another instrument or group. Mozart is here exploiting the conversational properties of contemporary musical syntax to enact a particular kind of social exchange. What arises is less the sort of ‘hard’ conversational style we might associate with Haydn than a sense of complementarity, in which personal fulfilment arises from the corporate participation in pattern making. This consensual textural mode meshes with two of Mozart’s most favoured syntactical devices, imitation and sequence. Fundamental constituents of the permutation technique, they promote a sense of punctiliousness within the dialogue, of an agreed larger purpose. In K. 452 this is juxtaposed with the more detailed manoeuvres that arise from Mozart’s conception of the medium. An example may be found in the Largo introduction. We might expect to hear from bar 5 a textural block dominated by the winds in reply to the piano’s leadership in the first four bars. However, the main melodic cell quickly changes hands before horn and bassoon offer more individual contributions. The other instruments then line up to take their turn in a rising sequence based on the bassoon’s idea, leading to a cadence. In this way the medium determines the syntax: closure cannot arrive until every player has participated in the larger pattern. The textural versatility of K. 452 does eventually extend to the creation of blocks of sound. The most striking of these occur in the Larghetto and involve harmonic exploration. The middle section contains a real purple patch in which the piano has a sort of soliloquy while the winds sustain a mysterious sequence of harmonies. In an earlier chromatic passage the keyboard provides constant figuration while the winds mark out the chord changes on each quaver. Such material would be hard to shape satisfactorily in a solo piano context, nor would it occur readily in a work for winds alone. The piano can hold the harmony together and aid intonation, while the winds can provide a leading edge and textural definition to the piano’s full harmonic outline. In line with its closing function, the finale tends to adopt a broader textural manner, but this is compensated for by a lengthy ‘Cadenza in tempo’for all of the players. Inthe subsequent coda the ensemble turns into a tutti, humorously abandoning this differentiation between the parts.

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