Serenades or are they?
Mozart's mature string quintets in C minor and E flat major will be heard in the BBC Lunchtime Concert at St John's, Smith Square, London, next Monday (5 November), relayed live on Radio 3 at 1.05 p.m.
In fact, the BBC is both understating and overstating its excellent case: . . this tenth season is. . . including half-a-dozen masterpieces from the two-viola quintet repertoire: the five mature examples by Mozart (with the C minor being heard in both its authentic string quintet arrangement and its original form as a wind serenade), and Beethoven's C major Quintet Op. 29.
Half a dozen masterpieces from a repertoire, which, let's face it, only includes another quarter of a dozen — the two Mendelssohns and what I have shown, on purely musical grounds, to be Mozart's authentic string-quintet arrangement of his Clarinet Quintet, ignored in this otherwise impressive season. And while the Beethoven cannot be admired in the same breath as either the Mozarts or the Mendelssohns, it can at least be called a masterpiece — but no other two-viola quintet can, qua quintet texture, however great its music.
All three quintet masters, then, were viola players, Mozart himself with a vengeance — on the violin, for which Salzburg had spoilt his appetite; the only violin concerto he was to write after the age of 19 was a violin-viola concerto. Again, his greatest string quartets are his mature string quintets — in whose private performances he and Haydn alternated between the two violas from movement to movement, as research by H.C. Robbins Landon has shown. But in his quartet sessions with Hadyn, Mozart didn't alternate With him between viola and violin, whereas Haydn himself alternated with Dittersdorf between second and first fiddle. At the same time, Haydn took his viola to London, not his violin.
Reflection, this, not mere ariecdotage: musically, the viola is the central position in both the quartet and the quintet, so much so that there is a Czech playing tradition of leading from the viola. For Mozart, the viola's centrifugal and centripetal force was twice its normal strength, for reasons both sonorific and autobiographical. No wonder he invented — as nobody seems to notice — the twoviola quintet the way Haydn invented the string quartet: of course quartets and quintets had been there before, but so What? Other things had been there, too, Still-born, dead for ever. No wonder, either, that he arranged two of his major masterpieces for string quintet. I have nothing to report on the circumstances of the arrangement of the Clarinet Quintet: music apart, there are no extant facts, but Mr Robbins Landon (my invariable musicological source) accepts my hypothesis of Mozart's authorship as fact. If you have any doubt, have a look at the redistribution and recomposition of parts, at how Mozart composed himself into the first-viola part! Mind you, it isn't easy to have a look: no printed score being as yet available, you have to lie on the floor with the parts before you — as Mozart did when he discoverd Bach.
The canonic minuet of the C minor Quintet with the retrograde canon of its trio is, of course, one of the countless results of this discovery, showing off Mozart's contrapuntal mastery in the same manner as does his fugue in the selfsame key, previously discussed in these pages. Not exactly a serenading movement, you may say — but then, which of the four movements is? There are indeed only four of them: even the serenade's customary first minuet is missing, not to speak of its second slow movement. Come to think of it, then, the precise circumstances of both the original wind composition (to be heard in the BBC Lunchtime Concert on 7 January) and its quintet arrangement are not much better known than those of the Clarinet Quintet' arrangement — except that Einstein, in and outside Kochel, has invented one or two.
Not that he is wrong in linking the work to Mozart's letter to his father of 27 July 1782 (my retranslation): 'I've had to produce a night music [Nacht Musiquel speedily — but for wind only, otherwise I could have used it for you, too', i.e. for festivities at the Haffners' house. The fact remains that in the musical event, nothing could have been further removed from the character of either a speedy occasional composition or a 'night music' (serenade). To be sure, the night is there alright — but in the composer's mind, rather than as an audible, conventional condition for the music's open-air performance. So far, however, there is no disagreement between Einstein and myself: he's puzzled too. When it comes to the arrangement, on the other hand, he goes harmfully wrong: 'the transcription was made for purely "business" reasons.' His evidence? Mozart needed a third quintet (to add to the C major and G minor) in order to advertise 'three new quintets' in the Wiener Zeitung. Maybe he did, but where is the logic of the pure business reasons? Nowhere: the trouble is that Einstein begs the question of what lies behind the recreation because he doesn't understand the arrangement in general, and the finale's E flat major variation in particular. The passage in question is, I submit, altogether the deafest in his Mozart book. Talking about the original finale, he says that it begins with impassioned and sombre variations in minor. . . and seems about to end in minor also, when the E flat of the horns falls like a gentle beam of light and is extended by the bassoons to a six-four chord; because of this passage alone Mozart should never have arranged the work as a quintet for strings, for these horn-fifths really require horn tone.
Einstein teaching Mozart, as Joseph Kerman teaches Beethoven. In a radio programme entitled 'Is the arrangement better?', I once featured both of Mozart's quintet arrangements, and the two violas playing the horn-fifths were amongst my most decisive pieces of evidence in support of the rhetorical part of my question. The progression's very identifiability as horn harmony makes its reinstrumentation the richer: it is composed against the wellimplied background of the horns' sonority. Would Einstein reduce, say, Chopin's mature piano music to its various instrumental implications, or vocalise and verbalise Mendelssohn's 'Songs without Words'? He is ignoring, denying a basic means of musical expression.
An understanding of the Quintet, on the other hand, removes some of the 'mystery' in which, in Einstein's own words, the original Serenade is 'shrouded': the chronological original need not always be the creative original, so it is my longconsidered view that the concrete sound of a two-viola quintet was there in Mozart's mind from the outset, that it was responsible for the unserenading serenade — and, eventually, for what we might now call the quintet realisation of the night music, turning its outer night into the inner night that is of its essence. How sensitive of Misha Donat, the producer of these Lunchtime Concerts, to let us hear the Quintet first, and the Serenade later! He must at least have smelt what we may consider the hidden musical truth — and by including the C minor in his 'half-dozen masterpieces from the two-viola quintet repertoire', he is brushing Einstein aside anyway.
If the Serenade is not a serenade, much of Mozart's last Quintet seems to be; 23 years ago, in The Mozart Companion edited by H.C. Robbins Landon and Donald Mitchell, I wrote that most of the E flat Quintet sounds like a bad arrangement of a wind piece in mock-Haydn style and is strictly unplayable in that it cannot be rendered in tune -unless an imitation a the awful sound of open-air wind serenades is intended; they usually seem composed out of tune too ... The slow movement , however, is sublime.
Was Mr Donat's downright riveting juxtaposition of these two quintets influenced by my strictly clinical evidence (in the medical sense), which he must have read in his teens — or else by parallel observations on his own part?
In any case, clinical evidence being' unalterable, I have not, in the meantime, mellowed — even though I never heard the end of it in these past decades: at question time all over the world, and though my lecture may have been about Schoenberg's String Trio, my single criticism of Mozart's quintet-writing keeps pursuing me, although none of the counter-blows have yet come from string players who, however, prefer to communicate their agreement in private. But quite recently, I received a fascinating private counterblow.
In my essay, I had said that the extremely personal nature of the andante, 'as well as its original struture and immaculate texture, only increase the musical mystery that surrounds this Quintet. I am unable to find a solution.'
Facing a terminal illness, a close, lifelong friend of mine — a psychoanalyst and amateur pianist — bought himself records of all mature Mozart quintets the other month: Mozart was, for him, part of what life was about. And in our last extended conversation he raised the question of the E flat Quintet as well as my answer, or my failure to answer it. `Mock-Haydn? Couldn't it be Mozart mocking at Haydn?' Not a bad thought. The consistent sham tragedy of Mozart's operative F minor, for instance, obviously mocks Haydn's truly tragic F minor.