Piano Quartet No.1

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Piano Quartet No.1 in G minor


About this work

Mozart composed two quartets for piano, violin, viola, and cello. The present work is the earlier, being entered by the composer into his thematic catalog on October 16, 1785. The form was relatively unusual in Mozart's time, and what models there were tended to treat the strings as accompaniment to the keyboard rather than as equal partners. It appears that Mozart's work has its genesis in a commission from the Viennese publisher Franz Anton Hoffmeister for three such works, the remaining two being canceled by Hoffmeister when he saw the G Minor work and recognized that it would be far too difficult for amateurs, the usual market for keyboard-based chamber music. Such qualities seem to have been widely recognized. A well-known passage published in a Weimar magazine (almost certainly referring to the G Minor Quartet) comments that even when well-played, the work seems "able and intended to delight only connoisseurs of music," before going on to express the opinion that it "can in truth hardly bear listening to when it falls into mediocre amateurish hands."

Cast in Mozart's most dramatic key, the work (like its companion, the Piano Quartet in E flat, K. 493) certainly goes far beyond the conventional domestic character of similar chamber works, its dark, romantic sonorities enhanced by a true chamber music equality of part-writing that emphasizes the lower strings. The writing for piano skillfully juxtaposes passages of concerto-like virtuosity with others in which the instrument fades and blends into the texture of the strings, a feature achieved far more effectively in performance with the use of a piano of Mozart's time than with a modern concert grand. There are three movements, the first a powerful Allegro that contrasts stormy drama with more lyrical introspection. This unsettled mood carries through into the central Andante, while even the final movement, a rondo, fails to bring the lighthearted relief generally expected from such movements.