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Mozart visited Mannheim, in what is now central Germany, from October 1777 to March 1778, during a long tour with his mother in search of a position worthy of his talents. The trip would prove fruitless, but the five months in Mannheim were a pleasant interlude for the 22-year-old composer. Mannheim was an extremely sophisticated musical community with a first-class orchestra, talented composers, and a number of distinguished musicians, both professional and amateur. Mozart also took this occasion to fall in love with a teenaged singer, much to the distress of his father back in Salzburg.
One of the amateur musicians Mozart met in Mannheim was a Dutch surgeon and flutist named Ferdinand De Jean, who commissioned three flute concertos and three flute quartets for his own use from the young composer. Mozart had trouble getting interested in this commission - he wrote only one concerto (and he arranged an earlier oboe concerto for flute) and at least one flute quartet. De Jean was disappointed, and the matter was eventually settled when Mozart agreed to receive only half the fee that he and De Jean had originally discussed.
Given Mozart's professed disinterest, it is pleasing to be able to report that the music he wrote is anything but routine. The Flute Quartet in D major, completed on Christmas Day 1777, is in the expected form: sonata-form first movement, slow movement, and rondo-finale. Brief and straightforward, it keeps the spotlight firmly on the flute, offering beautifully idiomatic writing for that instrument in the process. The flute has the melodic interest in the opening Allegro; textures remain fairly simple through the exposition, but the music becomes more complex in the development, which features a good deal of chromatic writing. The lovely Adagio is perfect flute music: over pizzicato accompaniment, the flute has long melodic lines, full of turns and grace notes. The concluding rondo moves energetically on its main theme, announced immediately by the flute. This cheerful flow of energy is broken along the way by brief contrasting episodes.
- Eric Bromberger is a regular contributor to the Los Angeles Philharmonic program book.