The C major Quartet brings us to the end of the series of the six
quartets that Mozart dedicated to his great friend and mentor Joseph Haydn, a
series of quartets that Mozart himself described as these six children of mine, the
fruit of long and laborious endeavour.
The Dissonance Quartet is so named on account of the slow
introduction to the opening Allegro. The harmonic structure of the texture of
the opening bars - a chromatically descending bass - is not extraordinary even
in the context of the eighteenth century. But Mozart uses a series of false
relations in the first eight bars to blur the tonality and to generate tension
about how he will untangle the deliberately tangled skein. Like Wagner's
Tristan chord, these few notes have been the cause of much erudite and
impassioned debate - indeed many early performers even corrected what they
thought were Mozart's mistakes. The Allegro when it arrives is of crystalline
beauty, clear in structure and shining with joy. The only darkness amidst this
light-filled music comes in the development when the cello seems to be dragging
us back to the tensions of the opening introduction.
The Andante cantabile is one of Mozart's most intensely beautiful
creations. Perhaps its most affecting inspiration is a sighing figure that is
passed magically amongst the four instruments. As the movement progresses the
music is transformed from gentle beauty into a profundity that no words can
Inevitably the minuet must bring us back to ground level with a
combination of earthiness and spirited energy. The Trio is led even more
energetically by the first violin with some neat interjections by the cello
near the end. The finale is clearly written in homage to Haydn as it uses
several techniques pioneered by him, such as the sudden rests in the main theme
used to build up tension. The second theme has a tendency to burst out into a
cascade of brilliant semiquaver runs followed by an uneasy dream-like episode.
Another trick of Papa Haydn's was the false entry of the recapitulation, which
Mozart tries three times before eventually finding the correct key. So does the
youthful master make obeisance to his mentor, while we listen transfixed.