The Mozart String Quintet in G minor and the Brahms String Quintet in G major are two of the best in the literature. Why do they “rock”?
Mozart rocked the musical norms of the time in his G minor quintet which has been compared to the stages of grief. The first movement is shock, escape, ungroundedness. The second, anger and denial, followed by the beautiful slow movement, depression, and then, a first in history, Mozart introduces the finale with an even slower, painful outpouring of grief, only to return to his bubbly self in a rollicking gallop.
When Brahms wrote his G major quintet, he intended it to be his last composition. He did end up writing more, but this Opus 111 packs a punch from start to finish, from the brilliant opening cello solo to the Hungarian Czardas at the end. It seems as if Brahms wanted to leave the stage in a blaze of glory!
Brahms and Mozart both loved the viola sound. At the height of their creative powers, they wanted to explore the extra richness and complexity that adding a second viola to the string quartet would provide.
But perhaps the real reason I think they rock is because they are simply my very favourite works of chamber music. I never get tired of rehearsing and playing these pieces with my colleagues and friends. The experience deepens every time, especially this time, when we carefully rehearsed, socially-distanced and masked in my studio, farther apart than usual and yet strangely closer in spirit.