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.
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.
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.