Thursday, 19 October 2017

Mozart's String Quartets dedicated to Haydn

A great deal of music has been written for sponsors, or employers, or has been commissioned. For practically the whole of J.S. Bach's life, he wrote music for his employers, be it church or court. Most of Haydn's music was written when he was a liveried servant of an aristocratic employer. Handel was an exception in the 18th century, and Mozart had no patron (though a good proportion of his music was commissioned). Even by Mozart's high standards, the six string quartets he dedicated to Joseph Haydn are among his very best works. One has a real sense of Mozart taking extra care to give of his best in these works he dedicated to Haydn. The level of invention is high and constant, so no matter how often one listens to these quartets, there is always something new. One never tires of listening.

This time round I heard them played by the Hagen Quartett, in recordings from the late 1990s. Well played and well balanced, with Mozart's favoured viola parts (that he himself probably played when the quartets were first performed for Haydn) coming over well. Mozart really put the viola back into play, after decades when it was mainly just a filling-in instrument. However, I certainly still prefer to listen to these works as recorded by the Quartetto Italiano. Music does not get much greater than Wolfgang Amadeus in top form, in a music format (the string quartet) that is among the very highest for the higher levels of music making.

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