Mozart was an ambivalent composer for the flute. He wrote marvelous parts for the instrument in his symphonies, concertos, and operas, but said negative things about it as a solo instrument. Much of that – and much of the music – stems from his encounter with the wealthy amateur Dutch flutist Ferdinand De Jean (1737-1797) while in Mannheim in late 1777. De Jean, who was a surgeon with the Dutch East India Company – commissioned a set of concertos and quartets featuring his instrument. For various reasons, Mozart only completed part of the commission (even if one counts simply transcribing his Oboe Concerto as one of the works), received only partial payment, and had some rather cranky things to say about the experience.
The Flute Quartet in D, K. 285, is one of the De Jean commissions, composed in Mannheim, along with several piano sonatas and a handful of violin sonatas. There is certainly no sign of struggle or distaste for the assignment in the finished product, which Mozart completed on Christmas Day, 1777. Brimming with lovely tunes, it is in three movements: a brilliant, sunny Allegro, a sublimely melancholic Adagio in B minor with pizzicato accompaniment, and a merry rondo finale.