An approach to Mozart’s "String Quintet in D Major


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An approach to Mozart’s "String Quintet in D Major



                                                                                              By Antonio D. Araújo Cunha

The aim of this essay is to present a brief analysis of Mozart’s “String Quintet in D Major”, in accordance with specific criteria, pointed out by Rowell in his book Thinking about Music, as we will demonstrate in the following paragraphs, as guidelines to these short comments - - answers to Rowell’s questions - - which will be certainly relevant in our studies considering “the priority task for philosophy is (as Russel asserted) the framing of questions” (Rowell 08).

            Our first step is to answer some of the several questions proposed by Rowell (09-13) by starting with the thing itself, applied to Mozart’s “String Quintet in D Major.” If we look for the specific denomination of Mozart’s pieces, we’ll find a  “K” in front, and numbers to classify the them. So, the piece in focus is known as K 593. And this peculiarity is proper of his pieces,

because it corresponds to the first letter of the name of Mr. Ludwig von Köchel, a mineralogist

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and botanist who was born in Vienna, and the one who printed a complete catalogue of Mozart’s compositions, in 1862. By searching this classification we could observe the date of the composition which was 1790. Although, “... at the age of three, he already sat in front of the harpsichord attempting to find harmonic successions of thirds; whenever he succeeded, his shrill voice rang out joyfully. When Wolfgang was four, his father began to teach him the elements of harpsichord and, playfully, the rules of composition. Wolfgang did not need to learn. He began producing minuets and other small pieces for harpsichord, and several sonatas for harpsichord and violin”  And then, the miracle! This little wonderful kid came to enlighten and enchant the spirit of human creatures, like an angel who is not an angel, like a devil who is not a devil, but a wonderful unbelievable human creature, charming, elegant, and spiritually in harmony with a universal symphony, creating a unique space dedicated for his magic compositions. In this case, by listening his minuet (K 593) one can have the sensation that it’s different from whatever was listened before, located in his peculiar musical world, which existence depended on his potential capacity of expression. It’s not phenomena of the decade (1790), but the result of years of cultural background. Nobody can really wonder what people have in his or her minds. But we can at least wonder how he got inspired to manifest the existence of the pieces he created (Rowell 11), by reporting his own words: "When I am in the right mood, ideas seem to teem within me. Those I like I retain. Then there are scraps, which might go to the making of many a good dish. When I start composing I draw upon the accumulation in my brain"  - - (See question no.06). If it’s already known when and how the author’s manifest his potentiality, we have to focus the attention on the triangular relationship between source, transmission, and receiver(s).


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            If we question the qualities of the music (See question no. 7) as Rowell suggests (12),

one has to observe his comment by saying “music has dynamic properties that change at complex and variable rates - of speed, of loudness. We habitually apply intersense modalities to music, describing it as hot, smooth or colorful”. Rowell recognizes it’s a question of language. So, what is language if not our feelings being conduced by the force of the words, in this case, music notes? How could a receiver classify this music? The first impression of “K 593” is the intense vibration of hot and colorful harmonic songs. Any of these impressions should fit in this attempt, no matter how tricky and problematic, experts recognize this problem to be. It’s the music that speaks louder than people’s opinions. And how very nice it should be, to put words, pictures, scenes, or even dance with such a touchy composition. That’s what music is all for.

If we question the value of the piece (Rowell 13), we would probably be in doubt to recognize it as a work of art, or at least recognize the effect it produces in our minds (See questions 15 and 16 – 13).    The context of 1790 for sure, has brought Mozart to the top of the glorious memory of music. As it’s being informed it’s the time he created Così fan tutte, followed closely by Die Zauberflöte. And between the composition of these monumental works, Mozart was composing a prolific library of concerti for solo instruments and his masterpieces for string quartet, along with hosts of other works.”  In 2002, we would say the variety of music one can listen to does not diminish the pleasure to listen to Mozart’s music. The value of his art does not come with any CD (modern technology), but with the pages that first registered his brilliant inspiration. Nobody can really deny that the relationship of the piece with the rest of society is an evidence (See question no. 35, 17). As observers, we are surprised that the memory of his work could be preserved and admired as a universal inheritance, one can buy in any corner

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of the  world, in special shops, nowadays. We don’t need to go to the theaters anymore! Any musician should be applauded, in any square in any circus, in any space where Mozart could be remembered and played, or by the radios, televisions, and the like. His art is forever, and time is the main witness.  And then, we have a key word in our discussion, which is “time”. 

            First of all, some concepts of time are necessary. In accordance with Sinzig (573), time is the measure of duration of the notes. He comments that only in XVIII the indication of time started to have short notes in “Adagio” and long played in “Presto”. Another concept can be mentioned in accordance with the Glossary of Music, which is: “Time is the unity of a determined duration to divide the musical sentence symmetrically. It’s part of the compass” (Abril Cultural, 20). We should go on in this attempt to find a concept for time, but the most positive concern we’ve found by the moment is the one provided by Rowell. He mentions that the concept of time has always been an allusive one for philosophers and scientists (29).

It seems to be simple but it isn’t. [Rowell 29] “Musical time is specially created, sharing many of the properties of clock time and a time that is socially accepted by performers and listeners”. Then, as he concludes, music is a succession of discrete stimuli, and the fact that we could doubt what is it that leads us to perceive it as a motion. Is it illusion? [Rowell 31] It depends on the notion of time interpreters have, but they have to respect the fact that the time of music is controlled by a set of rules and unfolds in a setting of social interaction, then, one can compare time of music and time of sport – “agonic” or contestual time. (See question 12, 31)  In the piece we’re analyzing we would say that the variation of time can be noticed, and the sequences of Mozart’s composition  (K 593) are presented more than once along the composition itself, because there’s a possibility for multiple times in music and experience (See question 09, 31).

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Anyway, interpreters sometimes do not have the same notion of time. It depends too much of his/her sensibility whenever interpreting the composition(s).

            In conclusion, no matter music was not considered an art (Rowell 20), the essential concepts changed. “... Music is the art of creating a structured audible becoming... Music occupies a volume: it is spatial as well as temporal. But it is more as well. It is expansive, insistent, a sheer becoming in the shape of sound, produced by man...”(Rowell 23). This concept includes our main points in our discussion, which are both space and time.

            As he is being described nowadays, on the covers of the records, Mozart had the ability to transcend his environment. In his minuet in D major, there’s a touch of the fatalistic and gloomy Mozart – a moving contrast in an otherwise rather humorously tuned work. ( April 1782).

There aren’t so many comments about K593. Mozart died when he was 35 years old, like an indigent. But only in 1985, in the year of tercentenaries of Bach, Handel and Scarlatti, his music was celebrated throughout the world, partly because of the film “Amadeus”, but mainly because of his magnified talent.

Mozart’s music remains in the “collective unconscious” (Jung) of the humanity, anonymous for so many ones but personally, his music sounds like a gift, a rare opportunity to meditation and assimilation of his sensibility.


Works Cited




Gibaldi, Joseph. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, New York:

       Modern Language Association, USA, 1988.

Rowell, Lewis. Thinking about Music, The University of Massachusetts Press, USA, 1983.

Sinzig, Frei Pedro. Dicionário Musical,  Kosmos Editora, 2nd ed., Rio de Janeiro, Brasil, 1959.


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