November 4, 2009
Mozart’s String Quartet, K. 421 in D Minor, occupies a special place in the hearts of the Guarneri String Quartet. It was the very first music we read through after deciding to form as a group. Why that work? Hard to remember after all these years, but I would guess that its emotion charged and melancholy nature, unique amongst Mozartâ€™s string quartets, had something to do with it.
Barbara Krafft, Portrait of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, 1819
Apparently, this quartet had special significance for Mozart himself. He composed it in the same room in which his wife, Constanze, was giving birth to their first son, Raimund Leopold. According to biographer Otto Jahn, “When she complained of pain, he would come to her to cheer and console, resuming his writing as soon as she was calm.” Some even believe that Mozart wrote the cries of Constanze in labor into the quartet’s second movement in the form of two sets of loud outbursts.
Over the course of our career, the Guarneris have performed the D Minor Quartet dozens of times. By sheer chance, the work began our second to last concert before we finally retired as a quartet last month. Driving back to the hotel after that concert in Conway, Arkansas, one of the music society’s board members told me that when our Mozart performance had come to an end, an eight-year-old child left her seat and rushed up the aisle sobbing, followed by her alarmed parents. The obvious concern was that their daughter had either hurt herself or become suddenly ill, but for the longest time they could get nothing out of her. Finally, the young girl quieted down enough to be able to tell her parents that she had cried because the Mozart was the most beautiful and sad music she had ever heard. Her parents asked whether their daughter wanted to hear the rest of the concert—by this time we were already playing the program’s next work—but clearly overwhelmed by the Mozart, she shook her head and asked to be taken home.
Mozart’s Quartet accompanied his son’s arrival into the world and announced the beginning of our quartet’s long and great adventure. Through the dark ruminations of his music, Mozart has also brought something wondrous to life in the mind and heart of an eight-year-old girl. You might call it birth pains of another kind.
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