String Quartet No.15

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

String Quartet No.15 in D minor

K417b, K421, KV421 • “Haydn Quartet No. 2”

About this work

The second quartet in the famous series of six dedicated to Haydn -- and the only mature Mozart string quartet in a minor key -- commands our attention at the outset (Allegro) with the drop of an octave from the first violin that ushers in its plaintive main subject. The contrasting second subject is a songful melody over a throbbing background. Mozart shows how much he learned from Haydn (and Bach) in the development, which features a good deal of contrapuntal passagework. Throughout this movement, harmonies are stretched out before being resolved, increasing the emotional tension. The nocturnal slow movement (Andante), in ABA song form and triple meter, is remarkable for the recurring rising three-note figure in the accompaniment, particularly from the cello, that expands the lovely main melody. In the middle section, this is transmuted into a series of little dissonant stabs of pain. The stately minuet (allegretto) is both elegant and deeply, gravely serious; the middle section, with its dancing first violin over a pizzicato accompaniment, provides the greatest possible contrast. The finale (Allegro ma non troppo) is a set of variations on a theme in a 6/8 siciliano rhythm. The prevailing mood is bittersweet, the harmonies rich, the invention consistently fine. A violin figure that appeared at the start of the movement, resembling the call of a cricket, returns to dominate the coda as the music rises in emotional pitch and then sinks into resigned peace.