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String Quartet No. 19 in C major, K 465 "Dissonance"

About the Work

Wolfgang Mozart
Quick Look Composer: Wolfgang Mozart
Program note originally written for the following performance:
Guarneri String Quartet Tue., Nov. 22, 2005, 7:30 PM
© Dr. Richard 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 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). “The ‘Haydn' Quartets are models of perfection,” wrote Homer Ulrich, “not a false gesture; not a faulty proportion. The six Quartets stand as the finest examples of Mozart's genius.” The last of the “Haydn” Quartets (C major, K. 465, completed on January 14, 1785) quickly gained the sobriquet “Dissonant” from its listeners for the adventurous harmonic excursions of its slow introduction. Some music dealers in Italy returned the scores to the publisher because they thought the rich chromaticisms were mistakes; the Hungarian Prince Grassalokovics was so incensed by the work's tonal audacities that he tore up the parts from which his household quartet were performing; and even Haydn expressed some initial shock, but defended the bold prefatory chords by saying, “Well, if Mozart wrote it, he must have meant it.” Actually, the introduction's heightened expression, a quality increasingly evident in the works of Mozart's later years, is simply the perfect emotional foil for setting off the sunny nature of much of the music that follows. The main body of the opening Allegro is disposed in traditional sonata form, invested with the thorough motivic working-out and instrumental interweavings that Mozart learned from Haydn. The following Andante , in sonatina form (sonata without a development section), is one of Mozart's most ecstatic inspirations. The Menuetto is not the rustic variety often favored by Haydn, but is rather an elegant dance subtly inflected with suave melodic chromaticism. The finale returns the ebullient mood and rhythmic vivacity of the opening movement.