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At the end of July, 1783, Mozart took his wife Constanze to Salzburg to introduce her to his father Leopold and sister Nannerl, remaining there three months. During the course of the visit, Mozart composed two duos for violin and viola (the other being K. 424 in F flat), his only works for this combination. According to Constanze Mozart, both were composed on the behalf of Mozart's friend Michael Haydn, the underrated composer brother of Joseph Haydn. Michael Haydn had accepted commission from his (and Mozart's former) employer, the Archbishop of Salzburg, for a set of six duos, but fell ill after composing only four. Mozart, who respected Michael Haydn as a composer, stepped into the breach to allow his friend to meet his deadline. The grateful Haydn is said to have retained the manuscripts as a sacred relic.
Suggestions that Mozart deliberately imitated Haydn's style are perhaps somewhat fanciful. Mozart's interest in the unusual form prompted him to produce two masterpieces whose contrapuntal mastery and richness of texture clearly stem from the experience gained in the near-contemporary composition of the first three of the set of six string quartets dedicated to Joseph Haydn. Interestingly, Mozart did not completely relinquish these duos to Michael Haydn -- in two letters sent to his father after returning home, he requests that the duos be sent to him in Vienna, along with the score of his opera Idomeneo.
Like its companion, K. 423 is cast in three movements, in this instance in the sequence Allegro, Adagio, Rondeau.
The Cello Sonata No 1 in E minor Op 38 was started in 1862, when Brahms was not yet thirty, with the finale being added to the long-completed first two movements in 1865. This, his first surviving duo-sonata, is an important work, in some ways a turning-point. His previous sonata had been the Third Piano Sonata, Op 5, a work of tempestuous youth, written in 1853 and prefaced by a quotation from the romantic poetry of Sternau. The cello sonata is utterly different; it is almost an ‘historical sonata’, its roots firmly planted in the music of the past – as if Brahms was turning his back on his wild young self. The only obvious quotation is from Bach’s Art of Fugue (although the main theme of the menuetto bears a strong resemblance to that of the scherzo of Beethoven’s famous Cello Sonata in A major). This is Brahms staking his claim as the greatest ‘classical romantic’ composer of chamber music, a worthy successor to his heroes from other epochs.
The first movement, with its glorious sunset coda in E major (Brahms was the master of musical sunsets) is linked to the other two movements chiefly through the dominance of the expressive minor sixth that makes its first appearance in the second bar of the work, and continues throughout the sonata. The second movement, a charming minuet and trio, seems to pay nostalgic tribute to the world of Mozart – or perhaps to that of Schubert, with whose music Brahms was somewhat obsessed at this period. The last movement, a robust mixture of fugue and sonata form, takes its main theme from Contrapunctus 13 from the Art of Fugue – as if Brahms is looking further backwards in time as the sonata progresses.
Dvorák's Piano Quartet in E flat major, Op. 87, had its premiere in November of 1890, just before the creative beginnings of the great "Dumky" trio, Op. 90. The quartet, however, while not devoid of folk influences, falls on the pan-European side of the duality that pervaded and animated Dvorák's work. Its outer movements are expansive, quite Brahmsian essays in sonata form, with characteristic touches in the instrumental writing such as the rapid exchange of tremolos between violin and viola at the end of the first movement. The second movement, marked Lento, is one of Dvorák's most purely lyrical, with a sequence of five themes, shifting in mood. The third movement, the most folkloristic of the four, consists of two contrasting dances; its central section deploys the piano in such a way that it sounds, perhaps, like a hammer dulcimer or other Eastern European folk instrument. The work is an unjustly neglected masterpiece of the chamber music repertoire, an unfailing crowd-pleaser but possessed of an originality that makes it worthy to stand beside the more complex corners of Brahms' chamber output.