Mozart — Quartet in Bb K.458
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791) String Quartet in Bb 'Hunt' K. 458
Allegro vivace assai
Mozart laboured over his last group of quartets, as, more than anything else he composed, they were written for his own satisfaction. It was the refinement of texture and workmanship of Haydn’s efforts in the medium which really jolted Mozart to produce quartets of his own. The great Mozart scholar Hildesheimer suggests that ‘Mozart seems to have respected no contemporary or even past figure as much as he did Haydn.’ In the dedication to the late quartets, Mozart, in an unprecedented gesture, writes that they had been the ‘fruits of a long and laborious effort’ - a sobering indication of artistic toil from a man of such unequalled gifts.
As much as in any other genre, Mozart constantly brings a fresh, invigorating perspective to the established form. The ‘Hunt’ theme of the opening Allegro vivace assai (the nick-name Mozart’s contemporaries gave it as it is easy to imagine steady galloping on horseback!) dominates the repeated exposition. Only at the beginning of the middle section, or development, does Mozart reveal a new melody, lyrical and enticing. Whereas Haydn’s Menuetto movements generally tend towards the tongue-in-cheek, Mozart’s possess a more sedate, sophisticated character. Though predominantly in the major key, brief hints of the minor key appear. It seems that Mozart, whilst portraying civility and refinement, never felt far removed from the repellent and inward emotions these harmonies seem to reflect.
In the Adagio, Mozart highlights the cantabile character of the violoncello in dialogue with the 1st violin: the even distribution of thematic material between all instruments being a notable feature of the late quartets. The Allegro assai finale exudes vitality and charm in equal measure and Mozart’s capricious use of canon in the second section reveals some startling textures - thematic entries occurring in quite unpredictable ways, somewhat kaleidoscopic in effect.
Feargus Hetherington 2009