String Quartet No.23

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

String Quartet No.23 in F major

K590 • “Prussian Quartet No.3”

About this work

Mozart's final string quartet was to have been the third of six the composer intended to dedicate to King Frederick William II of Prussia, the cello-playing monarch whom Boccherini served as exclusive chamber musician from 1787 until the death of the king ten years later. Shortly after entering the F major Quartet in his thematic catalog in June, 1790, Mozart told Puchberg in a further letter that he had been "obliged" to give away the quartets "for a mere song in order to have cash in hand to meet my present difficulties." Along with its two companions, K. 590 has been generally regarded by commentators as being less successful than the great set of six "Haydn" quartets composed between 1782 and 1785. Artaria's advertisement for the "Prussian" quartets describes them as "concertante quartets," thus paying due recognition to the prominence of their cello parts, which were obviously designed to give Frederick William significance. Yet if the structure is frequently looser than in the more tightly organized "Haydn" quartets, there is much compensation in the skillful manner in which Mozart allows the royal cello discourse with its colleagues, a refinement the composer confessed to finding "troublesome" in execution. The customary four movements are an opening Allegro moderato, an affecting, valedictory Andante, Menuetto, and Allegro finale. From the first movement this piece is filled with aural miracles. Dialogues scurry about and return slightly altered, like double entendres uttered in one of Mozart's operas. At the movement's end, the coda restates the development, gracefully winds down, and ends on a witty high note. Mozart never specified whether the second movement is an Allegretto or an Andante. Alfred Einstein said of it: "It seems to mingle the bliss and sorrow of a farewell to life. How beautiful life has been! How sad! How brief!" The Menuetto is charged with ornamental appoggiaturas and contrary phrases. The finale is packed with wondrous devices, such as unexpected silences and intricate counterpoint. Listen closely in the last bars and you'll even hear a bagpipe-like drone.