Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Mozart G Minor Quintet


Excerpt from Danse Macabre by Gerald Elias

“Tomorrow night, Mr. Jacobus, will you go to hear the Mozart G-Minor Quintet?” asked Seglinde.  “The Markner Quartet is playing with Simon Baker.”
“Sorry, but we’re just here overnight.  Have to get back home tomorrow,” said Jacobus.
“Such a shame.  It is the most sublime music ever written,” said Gottfried.  “I remember hearing this music the first time on WNCN in New York.  It was 1956 and I remember that date because it was the 200th anniversary of Mozart’s birth.  I’m sure you know he was born in Salzburg, Austria, but what you may not know is that Schatzi and I were born only just over the border.  Maybe that is why Mozart has always been my favorite composer, since we were almost neighbors.  When they played his quintet at midnight it was during my shift, but Mr. Zipolito let me switch with Tom Congden just so I could hear it.  I tell you, it was a miracle for me.  Such music!”


Music from Danse Macabre
Mozart Quintet in G minor

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Quintet in G minor KV516
performed by the Abramyan String Quartet and Lucia Lin, violin


Most of Mozart’s music, and most music of his time, is in a major key.  Considering Mozart’s irrepressibly sunny disposition, this is not surprising.  Yet unlike most composers of his day or any other, Mozart had an ability to blend hints of dark-hued minor keys into otherwise bright musical colors.  Though life might be a bowl of cherries, the hand that selects them from the bowl might from time to time, be trembling with doubt.

So it is a rare occasion when Mozart composes in primarily a minor mode, as he does in the G minor quintet.  While Beethoven’s minor key of choice was C—the Fifth Symphony, Third Piano Concerto, and an Opus 18 String Quartet, Mozart seemed to prefer the autumnal resignation of G minor—the key of the only two symphonies of his forty-one which are in minor, including the incomparable 40th, a piano quartet, and this quintet, being prime examples.  Mortality clearly weights heavily on his mind in the quintet.  And in a time when the eight-bar phrase was standard fare, just listen to how long the very first melody extends itself and seems to linger, free from earthly constraints.

It is no surprise that Daniel Jacobus and Sigmund Gottfried share their love of this music for those very reasons.  What is surprising is how the plot of Danse Macabre turns on a performance of the Quintet that does not take place.  Here is a recording of a performance that did take place, on September 19, 1999, by the Abramyan String Quartet in which I had the pleasure of surrendering my first violin seat to guest violinist Lucia Lin in order to play the lustrous second viola part.