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Divertimento in F, K. 138

January 29, 2023: Danish String Quartet

Mozart’s Divertimento in F major, K. 125c, is one of a set of three written in Salzburg during the winter months of 1772, after Mozart had returned from his second journey to Italy. The Italian influence certainly seems present in these works, for they all use the three-movement structure then popular in Italian symphonies, direct descendants of the three-part opera overtures. Clear echoes can also be perceived of the young Mozart’s most admired composers, Joseph Haydn and Johann Christian Bach.

The F major Divertimento’s first movement follows sonata form, as do most of the movements in these Divertimentos. The interplay between the two violin parts is especially striking. The lovely slow movement, also in sonata form, contains a truly melting second theme: long held notes in the two violins, reached each time by leap in a dotted rhythm, culminating in suspensions against contrasting figuration in the lower voices. The sparkling Presto finale, a rondo, is all too brief. The presence and character of the minor episode in the finale is particularly reminiscent of J. C. Bach.

These three Divertimentos, K. 125a, b, and c (K. 136–138), present interesting questions similar to those surrounding the famous Eine kleine Nachtmusik: it is not clear whether these works were meant to be performed as string quartets or by larger string ensembles. Though they sound equally compelling in both settings, historical evidence suggests that Mozart envisioned them being played with one on a part—not, though, by the typical string quartet, but the “divertimento quartet” comprised of two violins, viola, and bass. The illustration on the title page of Mozart’s Musical Joke shows such a quartet with the addition of two horns. The matter was not of great importance to Mozart, and the great Mozart scholar Alfred Einstein suggested that Mozart and his father might have taken the Divertimentos along to Milan, and if asked for a new symphony could have simply added oboe and horn parts.

Scholars even differ as to the correct title of the Divertimentos—the alternate names of “Quartett-Divertimenti” and “Salzburg-Symphonies” have been used; the title “Divertimento” on the original autograph was not written in Mozart’s hand. If, however, one takes the broadest definition of the word divertimento, namely entertainment or amusement, these works provide just that.

© Jane Vial Jaffe

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