Mozart’s Divertimento, Figaro, and the Don

Saturday, March 9th marks the return of the spring recital with the Cret String Trio. Tickets are on sale and seating is limited since it will be held in a private house. The program consists of the Schoenberg String Trio and Mozart’s Divertimento in Eb. Buckle your seat belts!

Entry from Mozart’s personal catalog with
first six measures of the Divertimento

The Mozart Divertimento is considered by many as the most difficult chamber work ever written. The difficulties are three-fold. First there are imposing technical challenges and hair-raisingly tricky individual passages; the violin, viola, and cello parts are more akin to concerto solos than a usual chamber work. Then there is the length: six movements and forty-five minutes of music (two minuets! two slow movements!) make the piece operatic in scale. In fact, one could perform Mozart’s early C Major string quartet three times and still not have reached the last movement of the Divertimento. But what really makes the work so hard is that, given the above, it all has to feel easy, like a group of friends getting together to read chamber music over a few glasses of wine.

Cret String Trio (drawing by Jane Niebling)

Mozart is unique: even at his most tragic, the music needs to flow effortlessly. As Artur Schnabel famously quipped: “Mozart is too easy for children and too difficult for adults.” The irony is that to make it sound easy you have to spend hours cultivating that facility both individually and as an ensemble. The music should sound as easy as someone singing.

The opening of “The Marriage of Figaro” where
Figaro measures the room for the bridal bed
while his fiancé, Susanna, tries on her wedding dress.
Two soloists singing together while also
singing completely different individual parts.

The Divertimento was completed in Vienna on September 27, 1788 and dedicated to Michael von Puchberg, a fellow Freemason who had supported Mozart in times of need and assisted Constanze and their two children when Mozart died just three years later. Mozart himself played viola at the premiere.

Don Giovanni’s servant Leporello cataloging
his master’s conquests by country to Donna Elvira.

“In Italy, six hundred and forty;
In Germany, two hundred and thirty-one;
A hundred in France; in Turkey, ninety-one;
But in Spain already one thousand and three.”


The piece is like a catalog of different forms of the period but above all, with its wide range of melodies and colors, it comes across as a kind of mini chamber opera for three instruments. It starts with the big, extroverted, and ridiculously virtuosic first movement that feels like a triple concerto without the orchestra. Following this is a tender and inward-looking slow second movement that begins with the sweetest of melodies in the cello. A boisterous minuet comes next like three loud friends arguing good-naturedly in a pub over beers and burgers.

Figaro, discovering his employer’s plan to exercise his
right to sleep with Figaro's wife on their wedding night,
sings how he will unravel the count's schemes
“Se vuol ballar Signor Contino”
(OK Mr. Count, if you want to dance, let’s dance….)

After this comes the heart of the entire work, an extraordinary set of variations based on a deceptively childlike theme that sounds as if it could have come out of a Suzuki violin instruction book. The variations roll in, each followed by a variation on the variation (imagine Mozart smiling to himself as he explores the limits of virtuosic compositional pyrotechnics). The movement then abruptly changes gear for a sneaky baroque version, and ends with an ebullient viola solo that mimics an entire horn section while the violin and cello buzz around like a swarm of bees.


Next comes another Minuet (more hunting horns, a silly trio and then a flirty trio (and a lopsided waltz) and finally….

“Questo è il fin di chi fa mal,
e de' perfidi la morte alla vita è sempre ugual”

(Such is the end of the evildoer:
the death of a sinner always reflects his life)

…we get our fast closer to joyfully wrap up the piece. The finale is in the spirit of the group aria at the end of his final opera, “Don Giovanni,” written just a year before in 1787. After a defiant Don is dragged to hell for his sins by the ghost of the man he killed, all the other characters triumphantly sing “Such is the end of the evildoer: the death of a sinner always reflects his life.”

We’ve gone through an incredible journey together - we three musicians, yes, but also you, the audience, have been with us the whole way. At the end of the Divertimento I feel transformed, in artistic exhilaration or exhaustion, I’m never sure which one.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791)

For this concert, we are encouraging listeners to bring a tablet or iPad to follow along with the scores to the Mozart and Schoenberg (used with the permission of Belmont Music Publishers), available as pdfs on the NCMF website at the bottom of the concert page. See you in March!

David Yang, Artistic Director

A lovely performance of the Divertimento
from the Solsberg Festival
Download File

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