String Quartet No.6

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

String Quartet No.6 in Bb major

K159

About this work

Mozart's String Quartet in B flat major No. 6 is the fifth of the six so-called "Italian" quartets, composed in Milan in early 1773 during his third and final Italian tour. At this point in his career, having traveled extensively in Italy and absorbed Italian sounds and styles, Mozart's quartet writing betrayed the influence of trio sonata practices; he probably was not engaged at this point with the quartets of Haydn, although an awareness of the elder composer's string divertimenti and Op. 20 quartets is detected in Mozart's six "Vienna" quartets later on in the same year. (And, of course, in famous sets of later quartets dedicated to Haydn.) The Andante opening movement presents a distinctive melodic character with its two simple repeated notes playing off of the dotted pickup figure. Characteristic of the period, this sonata-form movement has a short development section; not so characteristically, Mozart bases the section on a fleeting subsidiary figure from the exposition, which suddenly appears and heads toward G minor, but veers back to B flat for the recap. An unexpected shift to E flat enlivens the recap before it settles back into the home key. The Allegro second movement is in an urgent G minor key (hinted at briefly in the development of the first movement). A variety of melodies are presented with contrasting characters, keys, and modes, from the sturdy, grim-faced opening material to the lively "Scotch" rhythms of the B flat section (recast later in minor during the recapitulation). A clever but quite subtle textural device links contrasting sections: rising and falling scalar gestures that are passed in antiphonal alternations between accompanimental voices. The Rondo finale has a simple, foursquare refrain that recurs with various elaborated endings throughout the movement. The intervening episodes are of various characters, from the sharply contrasting G minor section with its sudden shift to triplet rhythms to a section that arrives at the home tonic of B flat only after a long string of ambiguous chromatic suspensions. The end of the movement juxtaposes the simple refrain with the moody triplet material from the G minor section, but recasts the latter here into lighthearted major-mode runs that bring the work to a lively conclusion.

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