String Quintet No.6

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

String Quintet No.6 in Eb major


About this work

The Quintet in E flat major (1791) is the last of Mozart's six numbered string quintets and the penultimate chamber work the composer entered into his thematic catalog before his death on December 5, 1791. It was almost certainly designed as one of a pair, a counterpart to the Quintet in D major, K. 593, completed the previous December. Undated sketches for quintet movements from Mozart's final years suggest that he may have planned even further works in the genre he had transformed from the divertimento-like character of earlier Austrian examples to works that take a place among the supreme achievements of the chamber repertoire. Like its predecessors, the Quintet in E flat is scored for two violins, two violas, and cello, a disposition that distinguishes it from Boccherini's string quintets and Schubert's great String Quintet in C major (which opt for two cellos and one viola). Mozart's employment of two violas not only reflected his own love for the instrument, but also allowed him to explore colors and textures quite different from those of the string quartet medium.

In the Quintet in E flat Mozart fully exploits the more extensive and varied palette afforded by this instrumental configuration. The opening Allegro di molto, for instance, starts with the violas playing unaccompanied, granting the instrument -- normally embedded in the middle of the texture -- unusual prominence. The texture of the Quintet is unusually open and clear for large stretches, leading some commentators to suggest that it represents Mozart's conscious reaction to the heavily wrought counterpoint of the great quintets of 1787 (K. 515 and 516). This hardly applies to the finale, however, which features a dazzling display of fugal virtuosity. The Andante second movement features a judicious mixture of true chamber writing and more soloistic elements, while the Menuetto pays a final tribute to the man from whom Mozart learned so much about composing chamber music, his friend Joseph Haydn. Both the E flat Quintet and its companion work were posthumously published in 1793 with a note stating that they had been composed for a "Hungarian Music Lover," whom it is conjectured may have been Johann Tost, the leader of Haydn's Esterházy orchestra.