About this work
Mozart and his father, Leopold, traveled to Vienna in July 1773 in hopes of obtaining a court post for the 17-year-old Wolfgang. No position was offered, but the ever-busy and resourceful Mozart spent his four-month stay in the Austrian capital composing numerous works, including six string quartets, the so-called Viennese Quartets (k. 168-173), all written in the months of August and September. These works collectively show advancement in Mozart's expressive manner: they are bigger than the quartets that preceded them, having four movements instead of three, and are grander in both scope and design. Still, despite their growing sophistication, they represent the last works in the genre before Mozart's first mature quartet, the G major, K. 387, from 1782.
This C major quartet is certainly a worthwhile composition, though, even if it has remained, along with the others in the group, among the composer's least often encountered quartets, typically appearing on recordings as part of complete quartet cycles.
The first movement opens with a rather lively Andante, whose mood is bright and hopeful throughout, with more than a hint at humor and mischief. It features a theme and four variations, and often displays a curious trait in its linear flow: in several places the music exhibits a sort of halting gait or simply comes to a stop, imparting less a feeling of hesitation, though, and more a sense of amusement and playfulness. The main theme returns to close out the movement. The ensuing Minuet is graceful and conveys an air of elegance in the outer sections, while the brief inner Trio comes across as more serious, even thoughtful, comparatively.
The third movement is marked Un poco adagio and contains the most lyrical music in the quartet. The mood is relatively somber, though, with the main theme, on the first violin, elegant and stately. The middle section features a related idea presented by the viola.
The finale is a brief Rondo marked Allegro and is, at about two-and-a-half minutes, the work's shortest movement. But that detail only serves to show that good things do come in small packages. This movement features a chipper main theme, whose rhythmic bounce and quickly descending phrases (which come across as sort of prankish falls) impart a playful atmosphere filled with sunshine and good cheer. The work typically lasts about 15 minutes.