skip navigation | text only | accessibility | site map

String Quartet in G major KV387

About the Work

Wolfgang Mozart
Quick Look Composer: Wolfgang Mozart
Program note originally written for the following performance:
Johannes String Quartet Wed., Oct. 20, 2004, 7:30 PM
© Dr. Richard E. Rodda

Of all the famous composer pairs — Bach and Handel, Bruckner and Mahler, Debussy and Ravel — only Mozart and Haydn were friends. Mozart first mentioned his acquaintance with Haydn in a letter to his father on April 24, 1784, but he probably had met the older composer soon after moving to Vienna three years earlier. Though his duties kept him across the border in Hungary at Esterháza Palace for most of the year, Haydn usually spent the winters in Vienna, and it is likely that he and Mozart attended or even played together at some of the many “string quartet parties” that graced the social calendars of the city's music lovers during the cold months. True friendship and mutual admiration developed between the two master musicians, despite the 24 years difference in their ages, and they took a special delight in learning from and praising each other's music. Mozart's greatest testament to his respect for Haydn is the set of six superb string quartets that he composed between 1782 and 1785 and dedicated to his colleague upon their publication in September 1785. “To my dear friend Haydn,” read the inscription. “A father who had resolved to send his children out into the great world took it to be his duty to confide them to the protection and guidance of a very celebrated Man, especially when the latter by good fortune was at the same time his best Friend.” These works are not just charming souvenirs of personal sentiments, however, but they also represent a significant advance in Mozart's compositional style, for in them he assimilated the techniques of thematic development and thorough integration of the instrumental voices that Haydn had perfected in his Quartets, Op. 20 (1771) and Op. 33 (1781). “They are,” Mozart noted in the dedication, “the fruit of long and laborious endeavor,” a statement supported by the manuscripts, which show more experimentation and correction than any other of his scores. The superior quality of the “Haydn” Quartets was recognized both by the publisher Artaria, who paid Mozart the extraordinary fee of 100 ducats, a sum usually reserved only for complete operas, and by the composer himself, who insisted that the Parisian publisher Sieber pay considerably more for them than for a set of three piano concertos. “The ‘Haydn' Quartets are models of perfection,” wrote Homer Ulrich in his survey of the chamber literature, “not a false gesture; not a faulty proportion. The six Quartets stand as the finest examples of Mozart's genius.”

The first of the “Haydn” Quartets (K. 387 in G major, completed in Vienna on December 31, 1782) shows Mozart in complete command of the technical resources and range of expression with which his older colleague had invested the genre. The work opens with a broad, fully scored melody that introduces the sudden loud-soft contrast that is one of the devices used to unify the Quartet's four movements. The complementary theme, initiated by the second violin, is a perky tune with just the hint of an opera buffa smile. After an ingenious development section that touches upon some of the chromatic possibilities implied in the earlier harmonic structure, the recapitulation returns the themes of the exposition to round out the form of the opening Allegro .

The Minuetto , placed second in this Quartet, is almost symphonic in the breadth of its scale and the richness of its realization. The soft-loud dichotomy introduced in the previous movement is here woven into the principal thematic material in the violin's quick dynamic alternations of chromatic scale notes. The movement's first section is worked out in full minuet form, with a thorough interpenetration of instrumental lines that approaches the sophistication of a sonata-form development. The Trio slips into a lugubrious, sometimes almost eerie minor key. It is just such an extraordinary musical paragraph that would have excited the admiration of Haydn and the despair of Mozart's rivals.

The Andantino is an extended outpouring of lyrical melody lovingly decorated. Its form is sonatina (a sonata without a development section; the second theme is the limpid falling motive in triplet rhythm), and its emotion is nocturnal.

The finale is a remarkable display of contrapuntal mastery placed at the service of high spirits and musical joie de vivre . The movement, which blends formal elements of fugue and sonata, takes as its subject a long-note motive prescient of the theme that Mozart used to close the incomparable “Jupiter” Symphony (K. 551) six years later.