Quartet in B flat K.589

Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (b. 1756 - d. 1791)
Share :


Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (b. 1756 - d. 1791)

Performance date: 01/07/2022

Venue: Bantry House

Duration: 00:27:56

Recording Engineer: Eduardo Prado, Ergodos

Instrumentation: 2vn, va, vc

Instrumentation Category:String Quartet

Artists: Doric String Quartet (Alex Redington, Ying Xue [violins], Hélène Clément [viola], John Myerscough [cello] - [quartet]

Wolfgang Mozart [1756-1791]

Quartet in B flat K.589

1. Allegro

2. Larghetto

3. Menuetto – Moderato – Trio

4. Allegro assai

In May 1789 Mozart arrived in Berlin in order to perform before King Frederick William, the cello-playing King of Prussia. Musicians knew of the King’s generosity to Boccherini, who, although living in Spain, received a pension from the King in exchange for new compositions. So naturally Mozart was hoping for similar munificence, and he performed several times for the King, who was sufficiently impressed to offer Mozart a post, the exact details of which are unclear. At that time Austria and Prussia were on far from friendly terms, so Mozart could hardly have accepted a posting in Berlin while remaining Court Composer in Vienna. The musicologist, Konrad Küster, speculates that Mozart was offered a post with a year to consider the proposal. In this case the commission for a set of six quartets for the King and set of six easy keyboard sonatas for the King’s daughter may have been part of the proposal. Mozart left Berlin with a fat purse of eight hundred gulden and hurriedly purchased some music paper on the way home. 

Research into different types of paper, rather like advances in dendrochronology, has made it a lot easier to date the composition of works when the original manuscript is still extant. This paper story tells us that Mozart composed the D major quartet K.575 and the first movement and a half of the B flat on the journey home. He also completed the first of the piano sonatas (in D major K.576) and both works were in his thematic catalogue by July. He continued with the B flat Quartet and began the F major K.590 on Viennese paper that summer, but did not come back to them until early the following summer. He had reason if you look at what K.588 involved, and take into account the other interruptions of 1789. Constanze was seriously – and expensively – ill ,in yet another pregnancy, necessitating more loans and time-consuming trips to the spa at Baden. A new production of Figaro was imminent with new prima donnas, each demanding extra arias. And K.588 is none other than Così fan tutte, which he began in August for a production the following January. And in between, Anton Stadler pestered him for a new work for a Christmas concert – nothing less than the miraculous Clarinet Quintet.

The paper story tells us that Mozart returned to the quartets in May, when he completed the last two movements of each quartet, and even began a further quartet in E minor. We can speculate that Mozart was trying hard to meet the King’s deadline, but quickly realised this was no longer possible. This is also borne out by the finales of both works, which pay far less special attention to the King’s instrument, which had been such a feature of the D major Quartet and the early movements of the other two. In truth it is hard to envisage Mozart leaving Vienna for Berlin, where concert life was far less impressive, even though the Viennese public and court were such a fickle audience. He must, however, have sometimes been tempted by Prague, where he was always a hero.

The B flat Quartet begins with a tranquil theme in the first violin, but this is soon given to the cello. The second group of themes is begun by the cello, only then moving up to the first violin. This cello precedence is taken even further in the slow movement, where it is placed at a much higher register than the accompanying violin. The movement is in binary form, ABAB coda, uncomplicated, except for the prominent cello, and very beautiful. The first violin returns to its customary place in the order in both the last movements. 

Francis Humphrys