MOZART'S OUTER LIMITS: String Quintet in B-flat Major, K. 174 &,E-flat Major, K. 614
The MHS Review 406, VOL. 12, NO.10• 1988
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Imagine the first and the last of Mozart's String Quintets together on a single recording so that listeners might both enjoy their felicities and learn something about the path taken by the composer's style between his late teens and the year he died. What a chance!
Mozart was only 17 (and still living at home in his father's house in Salzburg) when he wrote the B-flat major Quintet now known as K. 174. Since his wunderkind years had passed, young Wolfgang was more or less taken for granted and had few prospects beyond service to the archbishop. It must have been a terrible comedown for him to accept this fate after having been the darling of Europe's crowned heads and the recipient of important honors. Yet, works flowed from his pen with astonishing fecundity.
To realize what a phenomenon this boy was, think of any 17-year-old you known and consider that this one already had 173 works to his credit: symphonies, divertimenti, variations, sonatas, quartets, and operas! Music was something which he absorbed like a sponge from every source. That he was moved to try his hand at a quintet would have surprised no one, musical people in his part of the world being fond particularly of the quintets of Luigi Boccherini (who wrote about 150 of them to satisfy popular demand). Further, his father's friend, Michael Haydn Ooseph's brother), had just brought out an edition of the first of his own string quintets which, doubtless, added stimulus to the lad's imagination.
The grouping of instruments for a string quintet, two violins, two violas, and a cello, posed fascinating problems of clarity for the composer. As we hear his solutions, it is never less than marvelous the way he weaves separate lines of music for each of the five using the violas as a bridge between the violins' upper register and the single