String Quartet No. 14 : Work information
- Work name
- String Quartet No. 14
- Work number
- K. 387
- 1782-01-01 02:00:00
- Simon Lawman
- Bob Auger
- Recording date
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
The works of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart are generally held to mark the peak of Viennese Classicism. As a composer who excelled in every genre, he can be rightly regarded as one of the greatest composers in the history of Western music.
Born on 27 January 1756 in Salzburg, Austria, Wolfgang received his musical education from his father, Leopold and quickly showed aptitude, playing his sister's piano pieces at the age of four and composing from the age of five. Leopold, fully aware of the remarkable talents of Wolfgang and his sister, Nannerl, took the family around Europe, showcasing his children before Kings and Queens.
Having toured as a child prodigy for ten years and come into contact with all manner of musical styles and practices, including a meeting with J C Bach in London, Mozart began his adult musical career in Salzburg in 1773 in the employ of the Archbishop.
Although the greater part of his job was to compose church music, the young Mozart quickly became the chief composer of instrumental and vocal music in Salzburg and gradually became more dissatisfied with his position. Matters came to a head in 1781 when Mozart realised he could make a living as a freelance musician in Vienna. By the end of 1781, having obtained a release from his employment, he was established as the greatest keyboard player in the Austrian capital.
Mozart's finest works date from the ten years he spent in Vienna, the last years of his tragically short life. His reputation as a composer was immediately established with the opera Die Entführung aus dem Serail, and shortly after he married Constanze Weber. Their marriage appears to have a happy one, though both were financially naive.
The busiest years were between 1784 and 1788, in a period of financial security. Mozart gave numerous subscription concerts, for which he composed a dozen excellent piano concerti, in addition to private concerts for the local nobility. In 1784 Mozart also became a freemason at a lodge in Vienna and often composed music for meetings, most notably the Mauerische Trauermusik.
Opera, however, was still Mozart's priority and he scored great successes in Vienna and Prague with Le nozze di Figaro and Don Giovanni. These were followed in the final two years of his life by three more operatic masterpieces: Così fan Tutte, La Clemenza di Tito and Die Zauberflöte.
After the death of Leopold in May 1787 and a temporary lull in creative activity, Mozart began to give fewer concerts. His finances suffered as a result and from mid-1788 he was often in debt, forced to rely on loans from friends. However, the Mozarts never had to do without servants or any other luxuries of their class.
Mozart's work was still attracting international interest and was widely published. He was working on a Requiem commission when he died on 5 December 1791 from rheumatic inflammatory fever, but there is no evidence that this was in any way a burden on him as is sometimes suggested. Nor is there any evidence that he was poisoned, by Salieri or anybody else. He was buried in a common grave, as was the usual custom at the time, on a calm, mild day (not the snowy, stormy day of legend).
Mozart's reputation continued to spread after his death with Breitkopf & Härtel releasing a 'collected edition' of Mozart's works as early as 1798. In 1862, Köchel released his thematic catalogue of Mozart's works (works in Mozart's catalogue are thus prefixed by the letter K) prompting Breitkopf to publish a 'complete edition' between 1877 and 1883. His popularity has, if anything, grown to new heights in recent times with the majority of his works occupying prominent places in the repertory.
Mozart and Haydn's acquaintance probably dates from 1781, though the extent and nature of their friendship is largely unknown. They certainly attended quartet parties together, Haydn at one such event in 1785 commented to the visiting Leopold Mozart: 'Before God, and as an honest man, I tell you that your son is the greatest composer known to me in person or by name."
Mozart was also a great admirer of the older composer, particularly of his string quartets. It was therefore natural that the young pretender should dedicate his first mature set of string quartets to his 'most dear friend'. The set of six 'Haydn' quartets were written between 1782 and 1785 and were referred to by Mozart, rather unusually, as 'the fruits of long and laborious endeavour'.
K387 in G is the first of the set and was completed on 31 December 1782. Wonderfully genial in tone, the opening Allegro vivace assai is full of sunny melodies and conversational textures with the four instruments engaged in a lively musical discourse. The Minuet, unusually placed second, is full of quirky dynamic contrasts (listen for the alternating loud and quiet notes in the main theme), and is followed by a beautiful and lyrical Andante cantabile.
The real fireworks, though are saved for the last movement. This exceptional finale has the air of an opera buffa ensemble, its four characters arguing in a comic fugal style. Its playfulness and good humour form a fitting conclusion to this impeccable work of Viennese charm.