I be­lieve its of­fi­cial name is Mozart’s String Quin­tet No. 3 in C, but say­ing “K” then a num­ber tells ev­ery­one that it’s by Mozart, and since he wrote like fifty in­stances of ev­ery known form of clas­si­cal mu­sic, it’s eas­i­er to just re­mem­ber your fa­vorite K-numbers. 515 is right up there among mine; strong Mozart, which is all you need to know.

By the way, if you’re won­der­ing about those K-numbers, Wikipedia’s Köchel cat­a­logue ar­ti­cle has you cov­ered. The thing is that since Mozart was usu­al­ly broke and try­ing to con­vince three dif­fer­ent wealthy pa­trons that he was their ex­clu­sive guy, he wrote mu­sic like a crazed ger­bil on steroids and didn’t keep much in the way of record­s, so try­ing to or­ga­nize his oeu­vre has been the work of sev­er­al oth­er people’s life­times.

I’ll tell you about K515, but first I have a Clas­si­cal Mu­sic Joke and a Clas­si­cal Mu­sic Failed Ro­mance Sto­ry, so hang in there.

Joke: A wise man is lost in a fan­tas­ti­cal city and needs to get to the train sta­tion. He stands at a cross­roads with three ways for­ward, un­cer­tain. First to come along is the Easter Bun­ny, and the wise man asks: “Which way to the train station?” The Easter Bun­ny says “Go left.” Se­cond is a good vi­o­la play­er, who says “Straight ahead.” Third is a bad vi­o­la play­er, who says “Go right.” The wise man sees that ob­vi­ous­ly he must go right, be­cause there is no Easter Bun­ny and there are no good vi­o­la play­er­s. (Se­ri­ous­ly, this is what classical-music peo­ple are like when they’ve had a cou­ple of drinks.) The joke is rel­e­vant be­cause K515 turns a string quar­tet in­to a quin­tet by adding an ex­tra vi­o­la.

K 515, String Quintet No. 3 in C Major

The sec­ond sto­ry: When I was much younger I was man­ag­er of the New Ox­ford English Dic­tionary Pro­ject at the Univer­si­ty of Water­loo; about as much fun as you can have and get paid for. We reg­u­lar­ly host­ed Ox­ford Univer­si­ty Press lex­i­cog­ra­phers for a term of res­i­den­cy with the com­put­er geeks at Water­loo. One was a young sin­gle fe­male Scot­tish lex­i­cog­ra­pher who made quite an im­pres­sion on me, but I was mar­ried, and even though the mar­riage was fail­ing, it wasn’t over. Any­how, a year or so lat­er the mar­riage had com­pre­hen­sive­ly failed and I was vis­it­ing Ox­ford, so I poked around to see what was on, and emailed the lex­i­cog­ra­pher, won­der­ing if she’d be in­ter­est­ed in join­ing me for an evening of Mozart cham­ber mu­sic. She emailed back say­ing “Fortunately, my boyfriend is work­ing late, so sure.” Sigh. Oh well. Any­how, it was in the Chapel of Wad­ham Col­lege, which is a love­ly room al­beit with hor­ri­bly un­com­fort­able seat­s, and we had a good time any­how, and the mu­sic was K 515, which I’d nev­er heard be­fore that and now it’s one of my faves.

This piece is an ex­tend­ed mu­si­cal con­ver­sa­tion, and not sub­tle ei­ther, you can hear the voic­es flip back and forth be­tween the in­stru­ments, dance around each oth­er then to­geth­er, then in echoes both strong and sub­tle. It’s a re­mark­able piece of mu­si­cal ar­chi­tec­ture and al­so great fun to lis­ten to.

A huge num­ber of chamber-music ag­glom­er­a­tions have record­ed this. The ver­sion I have is on Nax­os, by the Éder Quar­tet (not big stars), but it’s beau­ti­ful­ly bal­anced and I love it.

This is part of the Song of the Day se­ries (back­ground).

Links · Spo­ti­fy playlist. This tune (I’m just link­ing to the first move­ment - if you like it, the rest are great too) on Ama­zon, iTunes, Spo­ti­fy. Now, as for live video, I lis­tened to lots and it’s shock­ing how few get an even bal­ance be­tween the cel­lo and first vi­o­lin, which af­ter lis­ten­ing to about 30 sec­onds is ob­vi­ous­ly key to the whole thing mak­ing sense. This one by Quar­tet­to Stradi­vari doesn’t have to­tal­ly the best sound or the most charis­mat­ic play­er­s, but the record­ing en­gi­neer just nailed the lev­el­s, and the play­ers go with Mozart’s con­ver­sa­tion­al flow, no fuss, no muss, noth­ing ex­tra, and I re­al­ly like their feel. Tasty.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: m@ (Mar 14 2018, at 22:22)

This is the 2nd time 515 has appeared in a SotD. Will Mark Knopfler's "5.15 a.m." be the next? :-)


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March 12, 2018
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