Make Music Part of Your Life Series: Mozart / Divertimento in B-flat major, K. 137


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Divertimento in B-flat major for string quartet, K. 137/125b (1772)
00:00 – Andante
07:52 – Allegro di molto
11:17 – Allegro assai
(Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields Chamber Ensemble (1986))

“Three early Mozart pieces, K. 137, 137 and 138, are labeled divertimentos on the manuscripts and are so listed in Grove. However, few Mozart scholars accept that tag as an accurate description of the works, and most doubt that the title came from Mozart. For one thing, a divertimento should have two minuets, and these three have none. At first glance they seem to be straightforward string quartets–yet many experts contend that they don’t sound at all like string quartets. 

So what are they? Mozart scholar Alfred Einstein fancies them as small symphonies for strings, to which the composer was prepared to add extra parts for winds; they are sometimes known as the ‘Salzburg symphonies.’ Musicologist Hans Keller has given them the curious designation of ‘orchestral quartets.’ Others insist that they are indeed string quartets even if they lack the serious temper of that rarefied form. Yet (to complete the confusion) they are universally referred to as divertimentos–the one thing everyone agrees they are not.

Whatever they’re called, they are fine examples of Mozart’s early essays in chamber music…Mozart composed them in 1772, when he was 16, not long before leaving Salzburg on his third (and, as it turned out, his last) trip to Italy. He was going to Milan to produce the opera ‘Lucio Silla‘ on a commission from Count Firmian, governor-general of that city. He probably expected, from previous experience, to need music to entertain the count’s court while he was at work on the opera. So it seems likely that these three works were composed to meet that need. Mozart may have planned to present them with a small orchestra, as Einstein surmises, but here they are played by the four instruments of a string quartet.

The Divertimento in B flat, K. 137…differs from [K. 136 & K. 138] by starting with a slow movement. This affecting ‘Andante’ is led by the first violin and is punctuated by dramatic responses from the accompanying strings. A spirited ‘Allegro di molto’ movement follows, leading to a delicate finale marked ‘Allegro assai’. This section, while not actually a minuet, has a courtly air that suggests a roomful of dancers bowing and curtsying under brilliant chandeliers.” – Harvey B. Loomis

Painting: Still Life (Morning Glories, Toad, & Insects), Otto Marseus van Schrieck

 

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