Reprintable only with permission from the author.
Mozart’s E-flat Viola Quintet, K. 614, dates from the final year of his life, and was his last serious chamber work. It was written at more or less the same time as his opera The Magic Flute, which is also an E-flat-major-based work; but it is striking how this key resonates so differently in the two pieces. The opera’s timbre is rich and dark, with associations of majesty and secrecy, whereas the Quintet evokes a bright divertimento played by wind instruments in the open air. Indeed, if one were to have to guess which of Mozart’s viola quintets originated as a work for winds, one might well choose this quintet rather than the c minor work.
For performers, the E-flat Quintet is distinguished by its considerable technical demands, and by its paradox of carefree spirit crossed with substantial compositional scope. The first movement opens with a horn-like hunting call in the violas, which is answered by a graceful descending figure in the violins.
The working-out of this material starts almost right away, and is contrapuntally active and convoluted; it leads directly to the movement’s other melody, which is sweeter, smoother and more intimate. Of the two, it is the first, more extroverted material which Mozart devotes his attention to, and which sets its stamp on the movement. Essentially the mood is festive and brilliant, with virtuosic demands made on all five players, the first violinist in particular.
The slow movement is courtly and somewhat ornate. It is not one of Mozart’s lyrical, aria-like slow movements, but evokes instead a graceful and dignified dance. The opening melody is the idee fixe of the movement, appearing many times in many guises, sometimes decorated by other voices, sometimes digressing into unexpected channels, but always recognizable by its repeated starting pitch. Perhaps it is the absence of any second melody that lends the movement its round-dance atmosphere.
The minuet is jovial, Haydnesque, celebratory. There is clever deployment of one small instrumental group against another, of violins vying with one another, of melodies being turned upside down, and then finally, an ominous c minor halt – after which the music teasingly and quietly draws a simple conclusion. The ensuing Trio is a musette-like creation, wherein a smooth, gentle tune is played out against a persistent E-flat in the bass; more than anything it evokes a celestial music box, spinning its gleaming idea out to an inevitable close.
A carefree, rather rustic melody opens the finale, full of high jinks and good humor. The movement that unfolds continues and develops this joyful vein; in places the music recalls in its textures and figurations the final movement of Mozart’s 39th symphony, also in E-flat. In the middle section of the movement, the five voices get into a stormy argument, which takes a fugue-like form, complete with its own subject; but the episode is brief, and, as if finding itself too learned for this context, hurriedly dissipates. The movement plays out according to the pattern of its sonata form, and closes with a joking coda: a teasing question with a boisterous rejoinder.
Note by Misha Amory
Haydn and Mozart attract some parallel between the originality of each other, while there are also other similarities between these two composers of genius. However, there is one genre, where Haydn, the great creator of so many new forms (like the String Quartet and the Piano Trio, where he excelled), did not touch at all, namely the String Quintet (either for two violins, two violas and one cello or one viola and two cellos). On the contrary, the Six Quintets occupy a paramount place in Mozart's magnificent output.
When Mozart came to compose these six magnificent works, the genre was still in its infancy. Boccherini came into this, by composing over a hundred of such works, in different instrumentations apart the classic one (two violins, two violas and a cello). Michael Haydn composed some less important Quintets too.
Apart from the youthful First complex Quintet in B flat, K.174 (1773) and the Second in c minor K.406 (which is a transcription of the wonderful Serenade K.388), the rest of them appear later on in his formidable Opus. It is the great year 1787, when the first two superb late String Quintets (in C major, K.515, and in g minor, K. 516) came to life. Then, in 1789-1790, the two wonders of Chamber Music, namely the Quintet in D major, K. 593, and the last one in his beloved E flat, K. 614, made their splendid appearance. They constitute, beyond any doubt, the outcome of such effort and work on the composer's part. By the pressence of an additional viola, the form provides a wider scope and a more complete as well as ample sound - an early outline of the romantic ideal, later transcended so effectively and with utmost beauty and craft by Brahms or Reger.
Without any obvious difficulty, the divine composer indulges in this unexplored form of composition with a profoundly dramatic musicality, a feeling of musical colour and a quality of the most refined tone, full of the most subtle nuances. In this genre, the wunder Wolfgang has actually achieved to square the circle; he attained the impossible, for over and above the principle of the form itself: he reveals to us an ability to transcend in such a way that is close to the human voice thanks to the way he uses the five instruments, being so capable of expressing the most intimate detail of the innermost emotions. In this way, a poignant tune will touch us fleetingly, a tender melody will charm, a harmony of joy will stir us, while time and space no longer matter.
Are these out of this world works known to you? If yes, which are your thoughts, views and the emotions created by listening to them? Hopefully, we may touch upon each one of them gradually.