About this work
Mozart's six string quintets span a period ranging from 1773 to 1791, the last year of his life. The earliest, K. 174 in B flat, was possibly modeled on a Notturno by Haydn's brother Michael, who was employed at the Salzburg court and well known to Mozart and his family. In his Notturno, Haydn employed the same instrumentation -- two violins, two violas, and cello, that had been used for lighter divertimento-type works by such Austrian composers as Ignaz Holzbauer. Mozart adopted the same disposition in all his string quintets, elevating the form to a peak that had no contemporary, or indeed subsequent, parallel. By fairly common consent, Mozart's supreme examples of the genre are the two quintets he composed in close succession in 1787, those in C major, K. 515, and G minor, K. 516, works unchallenged as the twin peaks of the repertoire. The two quintets that followed in 1790 and 1791 (the present work, and K. 614 in E flat) are more controversial, commentators such as Hans Keller finding them full of "stylistic mystery" and "textural failures." Like K. 515 and K. 516, it seems likely they were designed as a pair, and when they were posthumously issued in 1793 by the Viennese publisher Artaria, an appended note states that they were composed for an unidentified "Hungarian music lover," who may have been Johann Tost, the leader of Haydn's violins at Esterházy. The D major Quintet, the first of the pair, was entered in Mozart's thematic catalog in December 1790, the year which also saw the composition of his last two string quartets, K. 589 in B flat, and K. 590 in F (the second and third of the so-called "Prussian quartets"). Much of the work was probably composed before Mozart undertook the tour he and his brother-in-law Josef Hofer made to Germany in the fall of 1790, a desperate trip made in the vain hope of alleviating his precarious financial state. The quintet is cast in the usual four movements, the first an unusual structure opening with a slow Larghetto section that returns after the main Allegro, giving the movement a cyclic form. The second movement is a highly expressive Adagio, the counterpoint at times, as Alfred Einstein pointed out, often reminiscent of the five-part madrigals of the sixteenth century. The succeeding Menuetto is rather Haydnesque, while the concluding Allegro is a rondo whose playful theme fails to mask the sense of underlying melancholy that pervades the whole work, a characteristic typical of Mozart's late works.
Curated by Anna Lachegyi, Viola da gamba player and Cellist