Early Mozart is full of jewels like this gorgeous quartet. It is one of the set of six so-called Milan Quartets, composed by the sixteen-year-old composer on his third Italian journey in 1772-3 to compose, re-compose and rehearse the production of Lucio Silla his seventh opera. The 6-hr opera was a huge success and went on to receive 26 performances. The six quartets were a lot less lengthy than the opera and were probably composed in the gaps between performances, though it is thought the set may have been completed on their return to Salzburg.
Back in Salzburg Archbishop Schrattenbach, a long-time supporter of the Mozart family, had died late in 1771. After much political chicanery the unpopular and notorious Archbishop Colloredo took his place. Leopold Mozart, forever seeking advancement for his son, extended their time in Milan hoping to receive an appointment from the Archduke Ferdinand. This did not come to pass, meanwhile Wolfgang set about completing the set of six quartets he had begun on their outward journey.
The third quartet in the series K.157 is in the refulgent and celebratory key of C major and this little quartet anticipates many other important scores in this key. It is also an exciting way to open a day’s music-making. The sunny opening movement gives way to the minor key Andante, which contains many pre-echoes of arias yet to be written. The presto Finale brings this quartet to a cheerful conclusion.