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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) wrote his six
String Quintets between 1773 and 1791.
“K614 in E-Flat Major” was his final masterpiece in the
chamber music realm. “K516b” was originally known as
“K406,” and was Mozart’s arrangement of his own
“Serenade in C Minor, K388.” It was scored for two oboes,
two clarinets, two horns, and two bassoons, and he
composed it in 1782. Many believe that by the time Mozart
completed his String Quintet compositions, he had elevated
the form to a level that has yet to equaled, let alone surpassed.

The presumption is that these quintets were originally inspired
by the composer’s exposure to “Notturno,” a piece by
Johann Michael Haydn (1737-1806). Haydn’s piece was scored
for the same configuration of two violins, two violas and cello
that Mozart used. Johann Michael Haydn was the brother of
the more prominent Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809), and
a friend of the Mozart family.

I recently heard a three-CD set of Mozart’s “The
String Quintets” which was released as a part of
The Complete Mozart Edition, a 1991 release by the Philips
record label. This collection of Mozart’s works was issued to
commemorate the bicentennial of his death.
The performances were by the Grumiaux String Trio,
consisting of violinist Arthur Grumiaux (1921-1986),
violist Georges Janzer (1914-1989), his wife, cellist
Eva Czako Janzer (1926-1978), and the addition of
second violinist Árpád Gérecz (1925-1992) and
second violist Max Lesueur.

You name it, I can heartily recommend these CDs on all
fronts, including taste, musicality, virtuosity, and beauty
of tone. True to my nature, I wanted to hear these pieces
as an integral set, and I’m glad that I did. What can I say
about such music, particularly Mozart’s later String Quintets?
In terms of melodic appeal, structure, mastery of form and
even innovation of form, Mozart comes out “aces,” in every
respect. It boggles the mind to think that he was able to
compose at such a high level in all genres, with such rapidity.
Mozart was a true “musical freak,” in the best sense
of the term!

The accompanying booklet features informative essays by
four different authors in English, German, French, and Italian,
which is a huge bonus when compared with the standard
practice of translating one essay into three additional
languages. The English essay was by famed British music
librarian, Alec Hyatt King (1911-1995). Unfortunately, my
fluency in the other three languages is limited. I would have
loved to have comprehended the observations of the other
three essayists. For some reason, photographs of
Árpád Gérecz and Max Lesueur were omitted from
the booklet.

While this was a fine recorded set, clearly, it was closely
miked. When listening to it on headphones, I could actually
hear certain fingers hitting the fingerboard! Nevertheless,
it’s a very impressive set overall.

 

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