Mozart - String Quartet No. 19 in C major, K465 'Dissonance'

The String Quartet No. 19 in C Major, K. 465 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart*, nicknamed "Dissonance" on account of its unusual slow introduction, is perhaps the most famous of his quartets. It is the last in the set of six quartets composed between 1782 and 1785 that he dedicated to "A Very Celebrated Man": Joseph Haydn.
Although legends persist regarding Mozart’s rivalries with other composers, he established a friendship with Haydn that was untainted by envy and characterized by mutual admiration. Haydn asserted to Mozart’s father,

"I tell you, before God and as an honest man, that your son is the greatest composer known to me, either in person or by name. He has taste, and, what is more, a most thorough knowledge of composition."

Mozart, for his part, spoke equally highly of Haydn in his dedication:

"Your good opinion encourages me to offer the[se string quartets] to you, and leads me to hope that you will not consider them wholly unworthy of your favor. Please, then, receive them kindly and be to them a father, guide, and friend!"

According to the catalog of works Mozart began early the preceding year, the quartet was completed on 14 January, 1785.

As is normal with Mozart's later quartets, it is in four movements:

  1. Adagio-Allegro
  2. Andante cantabile in F major
  3. Menuetto. Allegro. (C major, trio in C minor)
  4. Allegro molto

The first movement opens with ominous quiet Cs in the cello, joined successively by the viola (on A♭ moving to a G), the second violin (on E♭), and the first violin (on A), thus creating the "dissonance" itself and narrowly avoiding a greater one. This lack of harmony and fixed key continues throughout the slow introduction before resolving into the bright C major of the Allegro section of the first movement, which is in sonata form withe fugues and counterpoint (Thematic Workings)

Mozart goes on to use chromatic and whole tone scales to outline fourths. Arch shaped lines emphasizing fourths in the first violin (C – F – C) and the violoncello (G – C – C' – G') are combined with lines emphasizing fifths in the second violin and viola. Over the bar line between the second and third measures of the example, a fourth-suspension can be seen in the second violin's tied C. In another of his string quartets, KV 464, such fourth-suspensions are also very prominent.

The second movement is in sonatina form, i.e., lacking the development section. Alfred Einstein writes of the coda of this movement that "the first violin openly expresses what seemed hidden beneath the conversational play of the subordinate theme".

The third movement is a minuet and trio, with the exuberant mood of the minuet darkening into the C minor of the trio.

The last movement is also in sonata form.

There is a lot of evidence to suggest that Joseph Haydn's Quartet Opus 33 was the inspiration for this one, itself a set of six string quartets. Taken together, Mozart’s six are known as the Haydn Quartets (written 1782–85).

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*Mozart – Quartet in C major, K465 (Dissonance)', lecture by Professor Roger Parker, followed by a performance by the Badke Quartet, Gresham College, 10 October 2007
** Mozart - A Life, by Maynard Solomon, available on Amazon.com

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