Quartet in F Major for Oboe and Strings, K.370
WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART
Born January 27, 1756, Salzburg
Died December 5, 1791, Vienna
The 24-year-old Mozart spent the second half of 1780 working on his opera Idomeneo and then went to Munich in January of the following year for rehearsals and the première; it was while he was in Munich in early 1781 that he composed this Oboe Quartet. Mozart wrote beautifully for woodwinds, and his music for winds-which includes numerous serenades, divertimentos, and other works-was much admired by the young Beethoven. Mozart, however, wrote very little for the solo oboe. There are distinguished concertos for flute, for clarinet, and for bassoon, but the one oboe concerto is a disputed work, better known in Mozart's later arrangement of it for flute.
Oboists, however, can take consolation in the Oboe Quartet, a brief but splendid work that gives a first-class oboist the opportunity to shine. Mozart wrote it for Friedrich Ramm, the virtuoso solo oboist of the Electoral Orchestra in Munich. Ramm was admired for the purity of his sound, and he must have been a most distinguished player, for the Quartet demands a fluid technique and the ability to make wide melodic skips gracefully, as well as to draw out a cantabile line to great length.
Many have commented that the Oboe Quartet seems to be half-concerto and half-chamber music. Mozart gives the oboist ample opportunity for virtuoso display while the strings merely accompany it, but there are also many passages of true ensemble playing where the melodic line moves easily between oboist and strings. The Allegro opens with a jaunty theme for oboe that will dominate the movement. The graceful development of this sonata-form movement leads to a quiet close. Strings have the opening idea of the grieving D-minor Adagio, with the oboe making its quiet entrance high above them. Mozart gives the oboe long and sustained melodic lines in this movement and-near the close-even offers the oboist the opportunity for a brief cadenza. The finale is a rondo marked Allegro. The dancing rondo theme is first heard in the oboe, but this is quickly picked up by the violin. Near the end of the movement is a passage remarkable for Mozart's use of polyrhythms: two rhythms occurring simultaneously. The strings are in 6/8 throughout, but for a thirteen-measure stretch Mozart sets the oboe in 4/4 against them. The passage makes a brilliant effect, with the strings proceeding evenly and the oboist scurrying to get all the notes in. The very end brings a wonderful touch: the bustle of the rondo gives way to steady eighth-notes, and the oboe rises gracefully to the concluding high F.