This Quintet is one
of the most joyous works of music ever penned.
Mozart himself, writing two months after its composition, described it
as the best thing I have ever written in
my life. In the spring of 1784
Mozart was riding an incredible surge of popularity. He took part in twenty-two
concert appearances in the space of a month many of them devoted to new works,
such as the two wonderful piano concertos K.450 & K.451. The subscribers to
his concerts were the cream of Viennese society and Mozart in his triple role
as impresario, performer and composer was over the moon. But we must always remember the fickleness of
the Viennese for only five years later Baron von Swieten was the only
subscriber to Mozart’s proposed concert series in 1789.
One of the
fashionable developments of the 1780’s had been the Harmonie or wind-band,
often sextets or octets, which were hired to provide rich households with
so-called Tafelmusik, just as in the
last Act of Don Giovanni. The music
for these occasions was often arrangements of popular opera melodies and,
naturally, it meant that the Austrian capital boasted many fine wind players,
which is reflected not only in Mozart’s wind serenades but also in the scoring
of his piano concertos. All this woodwind activity is reflected in Mozart’s
striking technical skill in writing for winds, where he knows to perfection
exactly how each instrument lies.
This Quintet has the
distinction of being on the first page of Mozart’s Catalogue of all my Works that he began in February 1784, alongside
the four Piano Concertos K.449, 450, 451 & 453. Each entry is numbered with a title, date,
orchestration and the first two or three bars of music.
The majestic Largo
that opens the work immediately presents all the wind instrument both
individually and together. Within his
unusual group of instruments Mozart uses every opportunity to explore the
differences in sonority and to create his glorious kaleidoscope of
effects. The main Allegro is in the usual form of exposition, development and
recapitulation, but the interest is primarily in the extraordinary way in which
the instruments are both given their individual solo spots and combined with
the others. The Larghetto achieves a form of such jewelled perfection that we
instantly understand Mozart’s pride in his creation, each instrument including
the piano is given absolutely equal status.
The final Rondo is more
reminiscent of the piano concertos with the novelty that all five instruments
get their cadenza - entering one by one, oboe, clarinet, horn, bassoon and the
piano - thus confirming their collective status as soloists.