About this work
Mozart's String Quartet No. 7 in E flat major (K. 160) is the last of the set of six quartets composed in late 1772 and early 1773 during his travels in Italy. The group appears to be meant as a cycle, the K. 160 quartet's tonality filling out an overall key scheme based on a circle of fourths (D-G-C-F-B flat, and finally, E flat). Like the other works in the set, the E flat quartet demonstrates the extent to which the precocious young composer absorbed the sounds he encountered during his travels in the South, and which he carried back to Salzburg (where K. 160 was probably completed). In this regard, the work contrasts the quartets he took up shortly after returning home and falling under the influences of Haydn's Opp. 17 and 20 quartets. Aside from an overall Italianate melodic and expressive sensibility, the K. 160 quartet retains the more obvious characteristic of having three movements (rather than four, as found in the aforementioned Haydn quartets and in Mozart's subsequent series quartets from 1773, K. 168-172). The first movement, marked Allegro, begins on an unassuming melody with a gentle, downward slope. It is answered in foursquare fashion by a more agile and articulated phrase on dotted rhythms and repeated notes. This kind of subtle contrast rules throughout the movement: tiptoed scalar figures in the lower strings underscore long-breathed melodies in the violins and meandering melodies are given focus by midstream changes in articulation. A hint of Mozart's later Italian tendencies can be heard in the Figaro-esque crescendo leading to the end of the exposition. The slow second movement seems to take a moment to catch its breath, its delicate opening measures interrupted by cautious pauses. Once engaged, however, the dotted rhythms and steady harmonic pace lend a stately air. The home key of A flat remains at a slight distance, often veering away after is it established, but never straying far. The prevailing dotted figures set the melodic crux, a stark and serene stepwise descent on long steady notes. The Presto third movement continues Mozart's exercise in contrasts, heard, for example, in the confined, quiet stepwise figure and the louder volume and wider melodic arc of its answer. The recapitulation is preceded by a slowly swelling crescendo on quick, sequential figurations, recalling a similar gesture in the first movement and evincing once again young Mozart's Italian influences.