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Flute Quartet in D Major, K. 285  ……………  W. A. Mozart


At age 21 Mozart resigned his post in Salzburg, considering it a dead-end, as his employer, the Archbishop, failed to appreciate or reward his work. Mozart set out on a tour of the musical centers of Europe, seeking long-term employment. He spent five months at Mannheim which had an excellent orchestra. He wrote to his father that he was making friends of the Kappelmeister and principal players of the orchestra and:

We went together to the rehearsal. I thought I should burst out laughing when I was introduced to everybody. Some who had heard of me were very polite and full of respect. Others, however, who knew nothing about me, stared at me contemptuously. They think just because I am small and young there can be nothing important and mature behind my appearance. They will soon be undeceived.

His fellow musicians admired Mozart; the Elector (who controlled the purse-strings of the place) and most of the important court people did, too, but Mozart found it difficult to convert his artistic success into cash flow. He wrote his father that he received a gold watch “worth 20 carolines” from a wealthy nobleman, but

I would rather have had ten carolines; one needs money traveling. I have now five watches. I have a good mind… to wear two watches so that it may not occur to anyone to give me another.

After five weeks there, the Elector made it clear to Mozart that there were “no vacancies” for geniuses in the local job market. As the disappointed young musician prepared to leave, his musical colleagues, led by the flautists, came up with a plan to keep him, wangling a commission from a rich Netherlander for three concertos and two flute quartets, as well as two paying pupils plus free room and board. Mozart happily wrote this news to his father, adding:

I shall have plenty to do the next two months to write three concertos, two quartets, four or six clavier duets, and I also have in mind a Grand Mass.

However, two months later the Netherlander left Mannheim, paying Mozart less than half what he had promised because, so far, Mozart had written only two concertos and three quartets. Disappointed, Mozart wrote his father:

That I have not done more is quite simply explained. I have no peace. I can write nothing except at night and so cannot get up early. One is not always in the right mood for working. Of course I can scribble the whole day long, but such pieces go out into the world, and I am determined not to be ashamed if my name is on them. Besides, as you know, I become bored and dull if I have to write always for one instrument (which I can’t bear).

Such was the genesis of this quartet — the first of the three in K. 285, and the only one with three movements. Flute and violin enjoy brilliant concertante passages. The mood is happy throughout, except for a lovely melancholy passage for flute in the adagio, just before the closing rondo.

Craig B. Leman, for the opening concert of the first Chintimini Chamber Music Festival June 12, 2001

Martinu: Sonata for Flute, Violin and Piano

Bohuslav Martinu (1890-1959) studied violin, at a young age, with a local teacher in the village of Policka, in Bohemia and Moravia. He started writing music in his early teens. Martinu so impressed the townsfolk that they took up a collection and sent him to the Prague Conservatory in 1906. He was expelled in 1910.

Undaunted, he stayed in the big city and got a job in an orchestra and then teaching. He composed and composed. In 1923, he went to Paris to study with Albert Roussel. Roussel influenced him, and so did jazz, all the rage in the French capital. He did well in Paris, and his opera, Juliette, was a hit in Prague. But it came in 1938, just before the German invasion. Martinu despised and feared the Nazis, and in 1941 fled France with his wife for America, via Spain and Portugal, in an arduous and frightening journey.

All his early influences come together in this trio, from 1937. You can hear Stravinsky, jazz, Debussy and Roussel, and Czech dance music in the trio’s four roughly equal movements. Its rollicking, juggernaut allegro, the tick-tock contemplation of the adagio, the twittering machine of a scherzo, and the ragtime finale add up to 17 minutes of charm.

Tom Strini. Sources: Michael Rodman’s bio at www.allmusic.com, and the bio at Boosey and Hawkes’ website.

String Sextet No. 1 in B flat Major, Opus 18   …..    Johannes Brahms 1833-1897

Allegro ma non troppo
Andante ma moderato
Scherzo (Allegro molto)
Rondo (Poco allegretto e grazioso)

Brahms wrote this sextet during his time as court musician at the German Principality of Detmold, where he spent three months each year from 1857 to 1860 teaching, conducting, and directing the court choir. Taking advantage of the presence of a good orchestra, Brahms wrote his two Serenades and continued work on his massive Piano Concerto in D Minor, even as he was working on the sextet. One senses that Brahms was finding his way to the classic lean, small chamber ensemble by scaling down from orchestral writing to the hybrid six-piece string combination.

From the opening bar, we encounter rich sonority unobtainable in a string quartet: one cello plays the theme, the other provides the ground bass, while one viola plays and the violins are mute. The second movement is a theme with variations, first stated by the lower instruments. In successive variations, Brahms introduces quicker subdivisions of the beat, as Beethoven did in the second movement of his last piano sonata. At the end of the last variation, one cello, playing alone, bids farewell to the theme in a hauntingly beautiful passage. Brahms made an arrangement of this movement for piano, honoring the request of his friend Clara Schumann.

The scherzo is short, vigorous, and has a restless trio that recurs in the coda. The finale is the longest of the movements, with the instruments batting the themes back and forth among them, reminiscent of the Schubert Octet.

Craig Leman, for the Chamber Music Corvallis performance by the Audubon String Quartet with guests Erika Eckert, viola, and Walter Gray, cello, October 13, 1999.