The Kennedy Center

Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor, K. 478

About the Work

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
© Richard Freed

Surely one of the most productive musical friendships was the one between Mozart and Joseph Haydn. Despite the 24-year difference in their ages, they not only respected each other as equals but continually stimulated and learned from each other. The even became fellow Freemasons in Vienna, where Haydn made his home during the "off-season" at Eszterháza. In Vienna, too, they both took part in "quartet parties," with Haydn as leader, Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf as second violinist, Mozart as violist, and the Bohemian composer Jan Krtitel Vanhal as cellist. Haydn's "Sun" Quartets of 1772 (the six of his Op. 20) had stimulated Mozart to compose his own set of six the following year (K. 168-173), and Haydn's Op. 33 set, in 1781, composed, as he remarked, "in an entirely new and special manner," provided the stimulus for another half-dozen quartets from Mozart, which were composed between December 1782 and January 1785 and published as his Op. X with an affectionate dedication to Haydn. It was in March 1785, after the last three of these quartets were introduced, that Haydn made his celebrated declaration to Mozart's father: "Before God and as an honest man, I tell you that your son is the greatest composer known to me, either in person or by name. He has taste and, what is more, the most profound knowledge of composition."

The Quartet in G minor was the first of these "Haydn" Quartets, completed on the last day of 1782. The very opening announces that Mozart, too, is writing "in an entirely new and special manner." Breadth of expression and mellow reflectiveness characterize this music, which, as the chamber-music complement to the "Haffner" Symphony, may be said to initiate his most mature period. The minuet is expansive rather than galant, the slow movement not merely songlike but bathed in the radiance of a deep inner glow, and the vivacious fugal finale clearly anticipates that of Mozart's great final symphony, still four and a half years in the future, called the "Jupiter."