About this work
All five of Mozart's numbered string quintets are composed for a combination of two violins, two violas, and cello, an unusual disposition that varies from the more customary quintet that calls for viola and two cellos (the ensemble used, for example, by Boccherini and Schubert). Mozart's choice of two violas undoubtedly reflects his great love for the instrument, and its use profoundly affects the color and structure of all his string quintets.
The C major Quintet is the first of a pair completed in the spring of 1787. Why Mozart should have returned to the genre fourteen years after his previous effort, the Quintet in B flat major, K. 174, is unclear. Having recently explored the potential of the string quartet in the six works dedicated to Haydn and the "Hoffmeister" Quartet, K. 499 (1786), perhaps he felt the need to seek a new challenge in the chamber medium. Mozart entered the Quintet into his thematic catalog on April 19, 1787, shortly after returning to Vienna from Prague, where the triumphant reception of Le nozze di Figaro had resulted in a commission for a new opera. He likely worked on the Quintet while waiting to receive the libretto for Don Giovanni from his collaborator Lorenzo da Ponte.
There seems to be little doubt that Mozart planned the C major Quintet and its sucessor, the Quintet in G minor, K. 516 as a contrasting pair, in much the same manner as the Symphonies Nos. 40 and 41 (interestingly, also in G minor and C major, respectively). Indeed, in its elevated character, breadth, and scope, the C major Quintet inhabits a world very close to that of the "Jupiter" Symphony.
The opening Allegro of the Quintet is one of Mozart's boldest and most substantial conceptions, a truly noble movement that includes a development section of exceptional richness and diversity. The Minuet, more customarily the third movement in such works, follows; its nearly symphonic construction is far removed from a typical stylized dance. The Andante flows with a heart-easing tranquility that is hardly dissipated by the glowing harmonies of the finale, a movement of deceptive simplicity that was once characterized by Mozart's biographer Alfred Einstein as "godlike and childlike."
Curated by Anna Lachegyi, Viola da gamba player and Cellist