Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Nationality: Austrian
Born: January 27, 1756, Salzburg Died: December 5, 1791, Vienna (age 35)

Piano Quartet No. 2 in E-flat major, K. 493

(for violin, viola, cello and piano)
10:53 I. Allegro
9:13 II. Larghetto
8:52 III. Allegretto
Duration: 31 minutes (approximately)
Composed: 1786 (age 29-30)
Published: 1787, Vienna: Artaria (age 30-31)
8 recordings, 16 videos
autoopen autoplay
10:50
Brendel, Alban Berg Quartet
I. Allegro
10:05
Brendel, Alban Berg Quartet
II. Larghetto
9:45
Brendel, Alban Berg Quartet
III. Allegretto
10:39
Isaac Stern, Jaime Laredo, Yo-Yo Ma, Emanuel Ax
I. Allegro
9:59
Isaac Stern, Jaime Laredo, Yo-Yo Ma, Emanuel Ax
II. Larghetto
8:48
Isaac Stern, Jaime Laredo, Yo-Yo Ma, Emanuel Ax
III. Allegretto
29:57
Akiko Yamamoto, Members of the Szymanowski Quartet
10:31
Serkin, et. al.
I. Allegro
8:02
Serkin, et. al.
II. Larghetto
9:29
Serkin, et. al.
III. Allegretto
28:11
Schröder, Griffin, Slowik, Weaver
32:01
Mozartean Players
38:21
Michelangeli, et. al.
9:42
Miami International Piano Festival
I. Allegro
7:08
Miami International Piano Festival
II. Larghetto
7:57
Miami International Piano Festival
III. Allegretto
From Kai Christiansen

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, 1756-1791

Piano Quartet in E-flat Major, K. 493, 1786

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart"The "pianoforte", the world's very first piano, was conceived and built by Cristofori around 1700. The first piano sonatas appear in print in 1732, the year of his death. But the practical, noteworthy arrival of the piano along with music written specifically for it does not really occur until the mid 1760's, the same time that this new-fangled instrument was first featured in public concerts. Yet another decade passed before strong evidence of a true compositional style for piano or ensemble works demanding the piano rather than a more "generic" keyboard such as the more common harpsichord. Ultimately, the great first watershed of mature piano music in history falls in the generous middle of the 1780's including Haydn's later sonatas and Mozart's unparalleled piano concertos, the mighty set of 11 works written between 1784 and 1786.

Between 1785 and 1786 during this virtual dawn of pianism, Mozart wrote his two piano quartets for an ensemble essentially as new as the piano. But for a few random and now obscure composers before him, Mozart became the first to claim a genre that would captivate composers from Mendelssohn and Schumann onwards. Yet when they were first published, Mozart's quartets still bore the conservative and market-wise indication for either harpsichord or "fortepiano", the compound word highlighting its novel feature (e.g. "loud" and "soft") in a mysterious reversal of its two words from the original name. Mozart's "piano" quartets are considered the first in the genre not because they are historically the first, but because they are the historically the first great ones. When he wrote them, Mozart was at the zenith of his fame as a performing concert pianist as well as a confirmed master of chamber music. The quartets are superbly balanced chamber works with all the craft and intimacy that implies, but they are also magnificent showcases for piano, in essence, chamber concertos, a kinship emphasized by their three-movement designs.

The second of two, the Piano Quartet in E-flat Major, K. 493, begins with a tutti statement like a miniature orchestra, a bright and genial opening that establishes the tone of the entire work. Shortly, the texture separates into a pair of self-sufficient sub-ensembles: piano and string trio. Much of the music throughout the quartet features an echoing, call and response partitioning along these lines with the cool, sparkling and precise opacity of the piano juxtaposed with the rasping warmth of the vibrato-infused strings. Whether singing antiphonally or commingling in a myriad of combined textures, the composite sonority is like wood and water or perhaps clouds and starlight. Noteworthy throughout is the comparative delicacy of the piano part with a strong emphasis on single note melody lines in the treble and a subdued, left hand bass. A true sense of classical poise and collegiality distinguishes Mozart's quartets from many of his successors who, as the Romantic 19th century progressed in tandem with refinements to the physical instrument, would create much heavier textures with more florid piano parts. With the piano frequently isolated from the strings, a sense of the solo concerto occasionally emerges but never to the extent of a solo cadenza. Given than the "orchestra" is, itself, but an intimate string trio with its own inherent individualisms, Mozart's piano quartets equally evoke other ensemble combinations in a rich exchange: the violin sonata, the duo concertante for piano and violin (or violin and viola) as well as a truly unified quartet, a "broken" consort of diverse but blended colors.

The opening movement is in sonata form with Mozart's customary fecundity of thematic material. The development section darkens the mood with contrapuntal fragments and wandering tonality, the necessary tinge of poison amidst the ravishing delicacies. The highly accessible music and the neat symmetries of the sonata form tend to disguise fresh musical creation as mere repeat. As is so often the case, Mozart's recapitulations offer sensuous elongations, intensifications of mood and a change in scoring that brings the viola newly into the intimate dialog. The second movement Larghetto, also a full-featured sonata form, is a poised but tender song based on solo piano's opening gestures. It supremely capitalizes the steady, crystalline piano figurations that run like a shining rivulet through the lush, dense and more earthy blend of the strings. The finale is a moderately paced rondo demonstrating the greatest fluidity of Mozart's textures especially as, isolated from piano, the string trio enjoys the greatest liberties to pursue its own inner marvels of chamber texture. But at every turn there are new solos, duets and full contrapuntal alliances that form and dissolve including some brief passages for two-part counterpoint on the keyboard alone. The long-range personality of this quartet remains bright and, to stress the quality again, liquid.

A comparison with its companion, the earlier and much more severe Piano Quartet in g minor, finds Mozart writing, as he often did, a pair of contrasting works, light and dark, yin and yang. The brooding cast of the g minor quartet, along with its technical challenges and likely its novel scoring for this curious new ensemble called the "piano" quartet inclined Mozart's first publisher to ultimately cancel its original contract for a set of three, kindly allowing him to keep the modest advanced payment while saying "no thanks." History has shown this was a profound miscalculation.

© Kai Christiansen Used by permission. All rights reserved.


Related Composers

Leopold Mozart (1719-1787)
Father
Nationality: German
Born: November 14, 1719, Augsburg Died: May 28, 1787, Salzburg (age 67)
Franz Mozart (1791-1844)
Son
Nationality: Austrian
Born: July 26, 1791, Vienna Died: July 29, 1844, Carlsbad (age 53)
Johann Hummel (1778-1837)
Student
Nationality: Austrian
Born: November 14, 1778, Pressburg (now Bratislava) Died: October 17, 1837, Weimar (age 58)
Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
colleague
Nationality: Austrian
Born: March 31, 1732, Rohrau, Austria Died: May 31, 1809, Vienna (age 77)
Emanuel Aloys Förster (1748-1823)
Friend/Colleague
Nationality: Austrian | Bohemian
Born: January 26, 1748, Niederstaina Died: November 12, 1823, Vienna (age 75)
Paul Wranitzky (1756-1808)
Friend/Colleague
Nationality: Moravian | Czech
Born: December 30, 1756, Nová Říše, Moravia Died: September 29, 1808, Vienna (age 51)
Anton Eberl (1765-1807)
Student
Nationality: Austrian
Born: June 13, 1765, Vienna Died: March 11, 1807, Vienna (age 41)