Dr. Kutz on Mozart’s Divertimento for String Trio

"Know the Score" is the official blog of the Luther College Music Department. Students, faculty, and staff provide content on music tours, concerts, recitals and scholarship happening on and away from Luther's Decorah, Iowa campus.

For the ‘spotlight on the faculty’ blog post earlier this school year, I was asked what I was most looking forward to in the coming year, and if there was a specific piece I was especially looking forward to performing.  My responses were, respectively, the combination of teaching my students and performing with my colleagues, and, Mozart’s Divertimento for String Trio with my faculty colleagues. 

Now our concert is at hand, and I’ll share some of what makes this work so special, in advance of our performance Sunday afternoon.

A wonderful thing about having colleagues is that together we all know more than any of us do individually.  I must admit that I was ignorant of this Mozart String Trio until Luther’s viola professor Spencer Martin brought up that he would like to program the work.  He was, in fact, “obsessed with it,” he later confessed!  In rehearsal earlier this fall this came to the attention of Joseph Kromholz, violinist of the group, and his response regarding his own relationship with the piece was “yes, obsessed. . .and terrified!”  Why?

Mozart wrote the Trio in the fall of 1788, in advance of his journey to Berlin early the following year.  The journey also took him through the musically vibrant cities of Prague, Leipzig, and Dresden.  Mozart himself performed the viola part of the Divertimento on the tour.  Although Mozart performed this Trio, along with other of his chamber works several times along the journey, the trip’s larger purpose was to secure an audience and a commission from Wilhelm II, King of Prussia.  Wilhelm was and accomplished cellist and music lover, and Mozart’s trip was ultimately a success, securing him a promise of payment for three string quartets. 

Mozart titled his trio “Divertimento” because that was the name given to an instrumental work with more than four movements.  This Trio has six movements, although divertimenti in general can have anywhere from six to 13 movements!  The word has the same root as “diversion,” and usually divertimenti were regarded as light, insubstantial pieces—background music for dinners and the like. 

Nothing could be further from the truth about this string trio.  It showcases all the glorious aspects the compositions of Mozart’s final years.  The Trio largely abandons the melody and accompaniment texture often associated with music from the Classical period, and divertimenti in particular.  In its place is a profusion of counterpoint; it is a dialogue among equals.  Like Mozart’s other late works, the scale of the piece is expanded, both in movement number and length.  The technical difficulty of the piece is enormous, yet this is integrated seamlessly into the motives and rhetoric of the work.  Mozart still works within the balanced structure of the Classical period, but alongside this formal clarity are shocking changes of key and bold, operatic drama.

I encourage you to sit back, and let yourself be taken away by Mozart’s Divertimento Sunday afternoon at 4pm in the Noble Recital Hall.  It contains truly the whole gamut of human emotion.

Event details here.