String Quartet No.14

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

String Quartet No.14 in G major

K387 • “Haydn Quartet No. 1”

Recommended recording

Curated by Guy Jones, Head of Curation

About this work

Completed on the last day of 1782, this work would serve as the first of a set of six string quartets Mozart would dedicate to Haydn. Over nine years separate the first of this group from its predecessor among the quartets, K. 173 in D minor, composed in 1773. The string quartet was, at this time, a relatively new medium still in the process of development. From the genre's beginnings in works that were little more than divertimenti, one man above all others was bringing the string quartet toward the point where it would ultimately be recognized as the most challenging of all forms of composition. That man was Joseph Haydn. A direct impetus for Mozart's return to quartet writing seems to have come from Haydn, who in 1781 published a new set of six as his Op. 33. Mozart almost certainly first met Haydn shortly after settling in Vienna in 1781, and the two men soon established a friendship based on mutual admiration. As is known from a famous anecdote recorded by Irish tenor Michael Kelly, they also played quartets together with two other notable Viennese composers, Johann Vanhal and Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf. The inspiration provided by Haydn is clearly apparent in the quartets Mozart composed in the wake of these encounters. It is therefore hardly surprising that on completing six quartets of his own (K. 387, K. 421, K. 428, K. 458, K. 464, and K. 465) Mozart's publication would bear a famous dedicatory preface to Haydn that has led to them becoming somewhat confusingly known as Mozart's "Haydn" quartets. In the course of Mozart's touching tribute to the older master, he refers to the "long and laborious endeavor" that had gone into them, a unique admission from a man who normally composed with extraordinary facility, and a pointed reminder of the extreme challenge posed by this most pure of musical forms. Cast in four movements, this G major effort may divulge a few characteristics of the older master's style, but would in the end influence Haydn in his subsequent quartets as well. The opening movement, marked Allegro vivace assai, features fairly intricate instrumental writing: thematic lines are often started by one instrument and completed by another. It also contains a complex, substantial development section; yet the music is quite easy for the listener to grasp. The main theme is graceful and light, lengthy in its winding, sunny pathway. For all its seeming lightness, however, the music has considerable expressive depth, even if the alternate theme is carefree and largely devoid of deeper significance. The development section begins in a somewhat ponderous manner, the music at first appearing a bit hesitant before taking on an animated, more serious character. A delightful reprise closes out this joyful and masterful movement. The ensuing Minuet is elegant and light, but can jolt the listener with its sudden changes in dynamics in both the main theme and second subject. The Trio is deftly imagined in its mixture of gruff playfulness and gentle mystery. The Andante cantabile third movement sings its music in an exalted way, the main theme presented in a sort of complex unraveling of its wares, with many highs accompanied by deep lows from the cello. The whole movement conveys a serene, almost celestial quality, at times sounding mysterious, at others rapturous. The finale, marked Molto Allegro, presents a lively, joyous main theme, which Mozart treats contrapuntally for much of the movement, again with instrumental writing divulging much complexity. The alternate theme is just as lively, but more playful, not exhibiting the vigor and glorious manner of the main material. The music effervesces with energy and color throughout the finale, crowning this half-hour quartet with a blissful close.

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