Mozart composed the Divertimento, K. 136, during down-time in Salzburg in the winter of 1772, following two extended periods in Italy. During those visits, his dramatic works had found particular success, and he spent most of his time in Salzburg working on a new opera for Milan for the 1773 carnival season. The work, Lucio Silla, was the 16-year-old Mozart's most ambitious Italian-language serious opera to date, and the Divertimento, K. 136 (one of three such works Mozart composed during the winter of 1772), was probably a nice way to blow off some steam, musical yoga for a stressed-out composer.
We don't know much about these divertimentos - in fact, the title "Divertimento" on the autograph is not even in Mozart's hand. Mozart was a prolific letter-writer, but only when he was away from home, which explains why gaps in our knowledge inevitably surround his Salzburg compositions. He probably wrote the divertimentos for one of the musical evenings held in the homes of Salzburg's leading residents at which he frequently performed on both keyboard and violin. (At the time, his official position in Salzburg was as concertmaster of the court orchestra.) He may have intended the works for a string quartet, a "divertimento" quartet (a string quartet with double bass instead of cello), or a chamber-scale string ensemble such as the one used for this performance.
This Divertimento is in three movements, fast-slow-fast after the manner of the Italian sinfonia. (This work and its two companions have been described as Mozart's "Salzburg sinfonias.") The opening Allegro, in sonata form, centers around a delightful, charming theme that ends with an amusing little dynamic retreat. The development moves into the minor mode, surprising the listener with a second episode (violins over agitated violas and a pizzicato bass) where a less-inventive composer simply would have recapitulated the opening theme. The Andante is typically warm and elegant, its two halves contrasted by a brief acceleration in the accompaniment's pulse. A spirited Presto finale brings the Divertimento, a fine example of Mozart's ambitious work in a genre traditionally designated as "light" music, to a close.
- John Mangum is the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association's Program Designer/Annotator.