- Cliff Eisen
A composition for five solo string instruments; the term is usually applied to works written since the mid-18th century rather than to earlier consort music in five parts. The origin of the genre is frequently traced to the Italian sinfonia and concerto or to the generically fictive German divertimento, but it is closer in spirit to the south German and Austrian symphony, including works in five parts whose style is often indistinguishable from one-to-a-part solo ensemble music. Characterized chiefly by refinements in writing for a strings-only texture, the history of the genre is closely bound up with that of the string quartet. At the same time, its greater mass often resulted in works more closely approximating an orchestral style; only Mozart appears successfully and consistently to have composed quintets exclusively in the ‘sonata’ style.
The quintet was first cultivated in Austria during the 1750s and early 1760s, chiefly at monastic institutions. The majority of these works, by J.N. Tischer, J.M. Malzat and F.J. Aumann, are usually titled ‘divertimento’, which at the time designated soloistic instrumental music in general and was compatible with a variety of scorings, styles and character. Almost invariably for two violins, two violas and cello or violone, the early Austrian quintet relied heavily on thematic repetition between first violin and first viola, with the other voices mostly relegated to accompaniment; frequently the two lead voices move in parallel 3rds or 6ths. Michael Haydn's more sophisticated and stylistically advanced ...