Oboe Quartet

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Oboe Quartet in F major

K368b, K370

About this work

Mozart spent the winter of 1780-1781 in Munich, putting the finishing touches on Idomeneo in preparation for the opera's premiere, in the Hoftheater on January 29, 1781. While there he met Friedrich Ramm, who was by all accounts an extraordinary oboist; for him Mozart composed the Quartet for oboe, violin, viola & cello in F major, K. 370/368b, giving the oboe the greatest possible level of prominence.

The importance of the oboe part in the quartet does not, however, mean that the string parts are negligible. On the contrary, Mozart gives them a greater role in the dialectic of the piece than he does in the Flute Quartets, making the Oboe Quartet rank among his best-integrated chamber compositions.

Ramm's artistry must have been exceptional, judging by the Quartet's opening Allegro. Not surprisingly, the oboe is charged with most of the thematic presentation, although the violin and viola share in the musical argument throughout this sonata-form movement.

The Adagio slow movement illustrates the wide range of expression we find in the Quartet. It is set in D minor (the relative minor), a key in which Mozart wrote some of his most expressive music, and which in his operatic arias is generally associated with vengeance. The depth of feeling in this movement is more profound than in the Adagio of the Flute Quartet, K. 285, also in the relative minor.

The work closes with a spirited Rondo, in which contrasting episodes see the trading of musical material between instruments. The most notable feature of the movement is an unusual, thirteen-measure polymetric segment in which the oboe plays in 4/4 meter while the strings continue in 6/8, not noticing that one of their number has gone astray. Otherwise, the movement is bright and cheerful in mood.