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8.223282 - LACHNER: Septet / FUCHS: Clarinet Quintet, Op. 102

Franz Lachner (1803–1890) (completed by Franz Beyer): Septet in E-flat Major
Robert Fuchs (1847–1927): Quintet in E-flat major Opus 102


Franz Lachner was born at Rain am Lech in Upper Bavaria in 1803, the son of an organist and clock-maker whose other children also became musicians. His step-brother Theodor, born in 1788, was court organist in Munich and a composer of lieder, part-songs and choral works. Two sisters, Thekla and Christiane, were organists, while Ignaz, born in 1807, a pupil of his brother Franz, had a long and busy career as a composer and conductor, for fourteen years, up to his retirement in 1875, as principal conductor in Frankfurt-am-Main. A younger brother, Vinzenz, born in 1811 also worked as a conductor. The four brothers enjoyed considerable longevity. Theodor died in 1877, at the age of 89, Franz in 1890 at the age of 86, Ignaz in 1895 at the age of 87 and Vinzenz in 1893 at the age of 82. In a remarkable way the Lachners link the age of Schubert and Beethoven to that of Wagner, Liszt and Brahms. Franz Lachner was taught at first by his father, and at his father’s death in 1822 moved to Munich, where he at first earned a living for himself as a teacher and organist. In 1823 he became organist of the Lutheran church in Vienna. He met Schubert soon after his arrival in the city, an event he later recalled in old age. The two would take frequent long walks together and there were convivial gatherings at the inn Zum Stern with other members of Schubert’s circle, of which he became an intimate member. At the same time he continued his musical training with lessons from the court organist Simon Sechter, with whom Schubert began lessons shortly before his death in 1828. Sechter, a remarkably prolific composer, had a considerable academic reputation and counted Bruckner among his many pupils. Lachner was also able to take lessons from the learned Abbe Stadler. In 1827 he was appointed assistant conductor at the Kärntnertor Theater and two years later principal conductor.

In 1836 Lachner moved back to Munich, where he won a position of considerable importance, serving as a conductor at the court opera and directing the royal Vokalkapelle and the concerts of the Musikalische Akademie. His very successful activities in Munich only came to an end with the arrival of Wagner in 1864, when he was forced into retirement by the royal favourite and his men. Wagner’s reign was transitory, and Lachner retained an honoured position in the city, where he died in 1890.

Lachner’s Septet was written in 1824, at the beginning of his friendship with Schubert. The music is that of a young man of obvious talent and coincides in date of composition with Schubert’s Octet. The work is in five movements and is scored for flute, clarinet, horn, violin, viola, cello and double bass. The first movement opens with a slow introduction that must remind us, however fleetingly, of Schubert, before moving on to a sonata movement in the customary form, allowing subtle interplay between the instruments in music that is worked out with absolute technical assurance, and offers occasional opportunities for individual display. The Minuet is nearer the dance itself than many more sophisticated examples of the period, its second trio offering the horn a chance with the contrasting melody. In the slow movement a simple theme is varied with ingenuity and charm, and this is followed by a scherzo that seems at times ominously heavy-footed, while finding room for contrapuntal contrast. The last movement provides a delightful conclusion to a work that is redolent of Schubert’s Vienna.

The distinction of Robert Fuchs may seem at first to lie chiefly in his work as a teacher. His elder brother, Johann Nepomuk Fuchs, his senior by five years, was a pupil of Simon Sechter and taught composition at the Vienna Conservatory, of which he became director in 1893. Robert Fuchs was on the staff of the Conservatory from 1875 until 1911, and served as organist to the Hofkapelle in Vienna from 1894 to 1905. He was a friend of Brahms, who gave him considerable encouragement as a composer, and counted among his pupils composers such as Gustav Mahler, Franz Schreker, Sibelius, Zemlinsky and a somewhat reluctant Franz Schmidt.

Fuchs was strongly influenced by the music of Schubert, a composer in the editing of whose work his elder brother played a considerable part. He coupled a lyrical gift with a sound grasp of harmonic and contrapuntal technique and in every way continued a tradition that in other hands was to undergo various distortions in the early twentieth century. His Clarinet Quintet, Opus 102, was written in 1914 and formed part of the successful programme for his seventieth birthday celebrations in 1917. The celebratory programmes arranged for his 80th birthday in 1927 seem to have overtaxed his strength, leading to his death four days later.

The music of the quintet speaks for itself. Its clearly constructed first movement is followed by a Scherzo and contrasting trio section. A lyrical slow movement leads to a finale of fluent grace, ending a work that is finely crafted, with moments, at least, of outstanding beauty. Fuchs’ handling of the strings—and he claimed particular pleasure in writing for string quartet—is matched by his use of the clarinet, recalling at times, in its modulations, the work of the composer’s contemporary Richard Strauss.

Keith Anderson

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