Music stuff
Sunday Night Journal — March 04, 2007

Music of the Week — February 18, 2007

Mozart: Piano Quartet in Gm (K.478)

I think I know why this quartet, which is an earlier composition than the Eb (K.493), follows it on the cd. The matter was clarified by a fragment of conversation I heard on the radio on my way home a night or two ago: a journalist was interviewing a gymnastics coach who thought that one of her athletes would have received higher marks if she had not appeared early in the program, when the judges want to leave themselves room in case they want to score another contestant higher.

If I had heard K.478 first, I would have used up my superlatives on it, and been left with a difficulty in explaining why I like K.493 even more. I do like it more, though I don’t know that it’s a greater achievement—I think my preference is just a subjective one for the melodic building blocks of the first and second movements of K.493.

Like the Eb, the Gm quartet is heavier on the front end. The first movement is quite a spectacular ride; even a listener without the ear and the technical knowledge to understand what’s going on can hear the basic materials being taken through some exciting changes. (And that, of course, is the big difference between, say, Mozart, and a good deal of modern music: the materials are pleasing in themselves to the naïve ear, and don’t require any knowledge of theory on the listener’s part in order to be in some sense understood. Not many people can recognize a dodecaphonic tone row, but anyone with receptive ears can hear and feel a Mozart melody.)

The second movement isn’t as rich as its counterpart in the Eb, to my taste, and the third, again, seems a bit light. Overall, despite its being in a minor key, the Gm seems to have just a bit less gravity than the other, which is not necessarily either a good or a bad thing, but it’s less to my taste. Still, at this stage of my acquaintance with Mozart, which is mainly confined to the dozen or so best-known works, I’d say that both these quartets should make the “essential” list, along with the best of the symphonies, concertos, and chamber music.



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