About this work
In 1772, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's life was still under the control of his father, and the sixteen-year-old composer spent little of that year at the family home in Salzburg. Instead, father Leopold dragged Wolfgang back and forth to Italy, hoping the young genius would be able to break into the world of Italian opera. Mozart enjoyed some success in this regard but was unable to obtain a permanent position nor gain a place among the top tier of luminaries in Italian musical society.
During one of his rare respites in Salzburg, Mozart wrote the Divertimento in D major, K131 for an outdoor occasion, and thus the work is large in scope and richly scored. Of particular note is a minuet passage, written for a quartet of French horns, in the third and fifth movements. Its chromaticism poses a particular challenge for the valveless instruments of Mozart's day, and is in fact the most demanding music Mozart wrote for the horn aside from his four concerti. The four horn players also introduce the final movement with an elegant adagio, which gives way to a brilliant, animated two-part allegro. The reason for the preponderance of horns in this work has been forgotten, but given Mozart's habit of tailoring compositions to the abilities of particular performers, it is probable that four horn players of his acquaintance became available, and he inserted the passages to use the players to best advantage.
In keeping with the divertimento tradition of the time, Mozart's work was probably intended as background music for a festive occasion; as with all of Mozart's music, though, the Divertimento is far too brilliant to remain quietly unobtrusive. And even though Mozart doesn't resort to distracting pyrotechnics, dynamic complexity, or surprising modulations, the Divertimento survives as a sophisticated example of a genre in which the composer demonstrated unsurpassed mastery.