29 Jun 2023

MOZART: Divertimento for String Orchestra

by Jeff Counts

Mozart completed the trio of divertimenti known as the “Salzburg Symphonies” in 1772 while he was in the employ of the Prince Archbishop of his native city. Mozart was only 16 then (his life almost half complete!) and nearing the end of his decade of performance tours with his father, Leopold. They made two visits to Italy near the end of this period and his musical experiences there clearly influenced these slightly uncharacteristic works. In fact, it is likely he wrote them in hopes of winning favor on a future, third, trip to “the beautiful country”. The three pieces in the set straddle the fence between two important compositional forms of the day – the five (or more)-movement “divertimento” and the three-movement Italian style “symphony” – but, as one might expect with Mozart, they are not rote examples of either. As with K. 136 and 137, the music of K. 138 is light, charming and relatively simple by the standards of Mozart’s genuine symphonies and much shorter than his later, grander forays into the divertimento form. With just three short movements, cast in an attractive fast-slow-faster fashion, the “Salzburg Symphonies” each dispense with the minuet, a dance form almost always present (often twice!) in Mozart’s other divertimenti and de rigueur in general for the time. The four-part writing of the three 1772 divertimenti can be performed by a string quartet but there are indications in the manuscripts (a notation indicating “violas” rather than “viola”, for example) that suggest Mozart fully intended the works for string orchestra.      

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart