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On Mozart's string trios and duos

Even in these lesser known, if not obscure, parts of Mozart’s work, you can hear all that Mozart is and could be. His writing for string trio (violin, viola, cello) and string duo (violin and viola) consists of a six movement divertimento, a couple of sonatas, and a set of preludes and fugues. In them you hear the different facets of his talent: the inventiveness with simple themes; the extraordinary slides into chromatic harmony, and then back to conventional figurations and cadences; the way he takes simple devices, such as a sustained dominant note, then a four note descent to a trill, before landing on the tonic, and does something a little different; the agonizing sweetness of his adagios, which someone has compared to a grieving widower who falls in love with his own sorrow; his sensitivity to the sounds the instruments are capable of making, alone and together; the brightness of the timbres, the attack, the flow and the ebb of music; the operatic alternation of comedy and drama that informs all his music, whether it's his symphonies, his concerti, his sonata writing, and of course his operas; and all shot through with that note of yearning—for what, we can’t identify, yet for which the lack of a name only makes us desire it more.


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