A Serenade for Vienna’s Music Lovers

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Strolling through Vienna… © Charles Thibo

A year ago I was in Vienna, and being Vienna always makes me happy. I was done with work, i.e. meetings at the Vienna International Center hosting several UN agencies, and I had time for a stroll through the municipal park. I was on my own, I sat on a bench and I enjoyed Mozart’s Piano Quintet in E-flat Major, KV 452. A beautiful piece and a remarkable one for Mozart had some very special ideas on his mind.

The composer scored the piece for piano, oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon, which is not unusual as such. The form is derived from the serenades written for the instrumental ensembles of the Imperial court. The challenge lay in how to combine five soloists covering a wide tonal range. Mozart lived up to his nascent reputation and combined the instruments in several ways so that they complemented each other. Thematic links are abundant and are being passed from one combination of instruments to the next achieving maximal harmony despite the heterogeneity of the instruments.

Mozart wrote the quintet in March 1784, and the premiere took place on 1 April of the same year at a public concert at the Burgtheater. It was performed a second time in a more intimate circle, on the estate of his pupil Barbara Ployer. An illustrious guest was present at this private concert: Giovanni Paisiello. Paisiello was an Italian colleague who had achieved a certain fame with his operas like “Il barbiere di Siviglia” after having composed numerous vocal works, symphonies and sacred music.

The quintet “was extraordinarily well received – I myself think it’s the best thing I’ve ever written”, Mozart wrote after the first concert in a letter to his father and confessed he was very tired after performing the serenade plus two piano concertos. His career in Vienna was beginning to gain track; his efforts to raise money through private concerts and teaching began to bear fruit. Mozart was enthusiastic how well it had been performed at the premiere, and also at the second concert the piece was much applauded according to the composer.

A satisfied composer, a quintet greeted with applause and some 235 years later the piece still can make us happy. How could we ask for more? The quintet has been recorded by the soloist of the English Chamber Orchestra and Murray Perahia (piano).

© Charles Thibo

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de Chareli

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