Mozart, Flute Quartet in D Major, K. 287

October 30, 2005

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, 1756-1791

Quartet for Flute, Violin, Viola and Cello in D major, K. 285 1777

Mozart's genius as chamber composer rests on his mature masterworks for string quartet and quintet, but his total oeuvre comprises a rich diversity of ensembles. Several compositions feature strings and a guest from the wind family: the flute, clarinet, oboe or horn. Primarily dating from an early period before the first "Haydn Quartets", the chamber music for winds offers perfect and colorful delicacies with exquisite chamber textures and superbly idiomatic part-writing sensitive to the innate characteristics of each featured guest. While the unemployed Mozart traveled around Europe with his mother seeking opportunity, he received a commission from an amateur flautist in Mannheim named Ferdinand Dejean. The commission produced three flute quartets including the Quartet in D major, KV. 285 completed on December 25, 1777.

Like many of his early chamber compositions for a wind instrument, the flute quartet is primarily in "concertante" style where the flute enjoys the prominent role as the strings artfully accompany. Though a sort of a "chamber concerto", the ensemble is intimate, the textures transparent, with a vivid contrast of color and articulation yielding pleasures unique to the purest chamber music. The lightness and brevity of the quartet place it stylistically in that charming realm of the Rococo, a brief, gallant flourish representing a hybrid of the emerging early classical period with traces of the lingering Baroque.

The quartet is compact, with only three short movements, the last two joined without pause. The first movement is a clear and lively sonata with a wealth of themes, a terse development and a wonderfully elaborated recapitulation. The middle movement suspends motion and mood in a wistful serenade with delicate pizzicati speckling a pensive melody in the flute, evoking the Baroque or possibly some further antiquity of austere grace and poise. This demure reverie is just about to evaporate, when, without pause, the moment is seized by am exuberant finale rondo, utterly contemporary again in all its shimmering Rococo excitement. Between rondo refrain and intervening episode, there is but gaiety, and the frivolity of effortless perfection.

© Kai Christiansen. Used by permission. All rights reserved.