Freitag, 27. Januar 2023

CHF 150 | 110 | 50 | 30.-

W.A. Mozart
Quatuor pour piano et cordes n° 1 en sol mineur K 478
Duo pour violon et alto n° 1 en sol majeur K 423
Quatuor pour piano et cordes n° 2 en mi bémol majeur K 493

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Präsentation des Konzerts

Piano Quartet no.1 in G minor K478
Duo for violin and viola no.1 in G major K423
Piano Quartet no.2 in E flat major K493
Serendipity is the faculty of making unexpected discoveries by accident. The works given this evening might fit this definition – which, quite apart from their brilliance, makes them so unique. Written in Vienna at roughly the same time as Le nozze di Figaro, from 1785–6, the quartets either side of the Duo were, in fact, commissioned from Mozart by the publisher Hoffmeister to form a planned cycle of three works intended for a non-professional audience, one that liked to perform while holding court. The chamber repertoire lent itself to this context, given the limited number of instruments and the supposed ease of execution. However, with Mozart, nothing turned out as expected; from the publication of the first quartet in G minor, Hoffmeister started to panic about the poor sales, quickly realizing that the extreme technical demands of the composition, which was moreover judged to be too scholarly, made it unsuitable for his clientele. A contemporary newspaper reported that the work could only be conveyed and appreciated by experts, adding that it became ‘all but intolerable in mediocre amateur hands’. So Hoffmeister cancelled his commission of the remaining quartets: the implacable law of supply and demand is older than capitalism itself.

But as for serendipity, we can say that in contrast to the string quartet, this form, with three strings and a piano, was rare in Mozart’s time, with such examples of the genre as existed treating the strings as auxiliaries rather than partners worthy of the name. Violin, viola, cello, piano: history owes the first major works of this particular combination of instruments, then, to the chance occurrence of an abortive commercial project. Major and unsurpassed, according to musicologist Harry Halbreich: ‘The format reaches a pinnacle that would arguably never be surpassed. From the outset, Mozart seems to have exhausted the possibilities offered by this problematic combination, of which he was the true pioneer.’ The problem, to be clear, was that of creating a general harmony that would dent neither the vigour nor the expressiveness of the score. And it must be said that Halbreich was right: from the opening of the Quartet no.1 that foreshadows Beethoven, a complex dialogue is set in motion, closer to love than war in its games of hide-and-seek, its madcap runaway episodes and its surges of physicality. Its colour turns out to be miraculously inexpressible, its introspective blue sky constantly brushing against more cloudy, ambiguous aspects of the drama. An indeterminate aspect picked up on in the central Andante, ethereal one moment, heated the next, drawing an astonishing consolatory energy from the low strings. More than ever before, the instruments are interwoven into a seamless braid. Then, to conclude, a Rondo, whose author repeatedly defies the expectations generated by the music’s playfulness and dancing canons, reinforced by virtuosic surges of sound and deliciously ambiguous assonances. Little wonder that this proved to be no beginners’ piece!

Not exactly known for his submissiveness, Mozart abandoned the third quartet, but still wrote a second. And if he was going to get the amateurs’ backs up, then who cared how difficult it was! The clatter of tempi, the jumble of sounds, the cadence of capricious ideas immediately seem to be, if anything, heightened. The left hand of the piano invites itself into the fray like an additional instrument, with the solemnity of the Commendatore’s statue – but one that smiles. For all the movement’s restlessness, it is the music’s vitality that predominates, its joie de vivre. How pleasant it is, as we listen to the Larghetto, to encounter a kindred spirit (in note form)! Not that this stops the music from looking for lice, as it were – as the concluding Allegretto attests: it is with this knockabout banter tinged with humour, with soap bubbles and windswept flowers, that one of the pinnacles of the composer’s chamber œuvre is brought to a close.

Written in Salzburg a few years earlier, at a similar time to his Mass in C minor, the first of Mozart’s two Duos for violin and viola also has an unusual history. If legend is to be believed, Mozart’s illustrious adversary the archbishop Hieronymus von Colloredo commissioned six such duos from the (relatively) forgotten brother of the famous Joseph, Michael Haydn – who, following an illness, had only been able to deliver four. Requesting his friend Wolfgang’s help, the indisposed Michael was sent the score performed here after just two days. Here again, an unexpected turn of events would result in a genuine treasure: had it not been for this illness and the service rendered as a stand-in proxy, the Salzburg prodigy would probably never have considered this instrumental combination. And what a pity that would have been: in every bar, Mozart takes up the challenge of ensuring an equal dialogue between the soloists, thanks to his ability to constantly breathe new life into the different parts and sonorities. We might think that his discovery of the musical world of Bach, a year earlier, inspired an unprecedented contrapuntal language in the artist. From a psychological point of view, we might finally posit the notion that the union of violin and viola also represented a transformation in the intense, not to say overwhelming relationship Mozart had with his father Leopold. As an internationally renowned violinist and teacher himself, it was a source of regret to Leopold Mozart that his son was more captivated, as a performer, by the viola than by his own favourite instrument. In the light of this background, it would scarcely be a stretch to associate the refined clarity of these works with the maturity occasioned by a reconciliation. The mislabelling of the true name of the author of these duos only came to light on the death of Michael Haydn, in 1806.

Arthur Dreyfus
Translation: Saul Lipetz

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