|About this Recording
8.550391 - BRAHMS: Clarinet Trio, Op. 114 / Clarinet Quintet, Op. 115
Johannes Brahms (1833 - 1897)
Johannes Brahms was born on 7th May 1833 in the Gangeviertel district of Hamburg, the son of a double-bass player and his wife, a seamstress seventeen years her husband's senior. It was intended that the boy should follow his father's trade and to this end he was taught the violin and cello, but his interest in the piano prevailed, enabling him to supplement the family income by playing in dockside taverns, while taking valuable lessons from Eduard Marxsen.
In 1853 Brahms embarked on a concert tour with the Hungarian violinist Eduard Reményi, during the course of which he visited Liszt in Weimar, to no effect, and struck up a friendship with the violinist Joseph Joachim, through whose agency he met the Schumanns, established now in Düsseldorf. The connection was an important one. Schumann was impressed enough by the compositions of his own Brahms played to him to hail him as the long-awaited successor to Beethoven. Schumann's subsequent break-down in February 1854 and ensuing insanity brought Brahms back to Düsseldorf to help Clara Schumann and her young family. The relationship with Clara Schumann, one of the most distinguished pianists of the time, lasted until her death in 1896.
It was not until 1862, after a happy period that had brought him a temporary position at the court of Detmold as a conductor and piano teacher, that Brahms visited Vienna, giving concerts there and meeting the important critic Eduard Hanslick, who was to prove a doughty champion, pitting Brahms against Wagner and Liszt as a composer of abstract music, as opposed to the music-drama of Wagner and the symphonic poems of Liszt, with their extra-musical associations. Brahms finally took up permanent residence in Vienna in 1869, greeted by many as the real successor to Beethoven, particularly after his first symphony, and winning a similar position in popular esteem and similar tolerance for his notorious lack of tact. He died in 1897.
There is a singular beauty in the music Brahms wrote towards the end of his life, compositions of an autumnal melancholy to which the clarinet is particularly well suited. The two clarinet sonatas, clarinet trio and clarinet quintet were all written in the 1890s, directly inspired by the playing of Richard Mühlfeld. In March 1891 Brahms visited Meiningen, where he was particularly impressed by the playing of the principal clarinettist of the court orchestra. Mühlfeld was a musician of some distinction. Trained as a violinist, he had served in that capacity at Meiningen, before turning to the clarinet. At the same time he was principal clarinettist at Bayreuth and in 1890 had been given the additional appointment of music director of the court theatre. During the summer, spent now habitually at the resort of Bad Ischl, Brahms wrote for Mühlfeld the clarinet trio and clarinet quintet. The trio was first performed in December 1891 with Brahms and Robert Hausmann, cellist in the Joachim Quartet, which joined Mühlfeld on the same occasion for the first performance of the quintet. The two sonatas were written in 1894.
The cello opens the Clarinet Trio, followed by the clarinet and piano, in an introductory passage that sets the mood of the movement. The cello also announces the E minor second subject and this thematic material is magically developed in the central section of the movement. The D major Adagio, intense in its concentration of musical material, is followed by a third movement A major Andantino grazioso, that reminds the listener yet again of a friend of Brahms, the musicologist Eusebius Mandyczewski, that the cello and clarinet sounded in this work as if they were in love. The Trio ends with an energetic Finale in sonata form that demonstrates yet again the ability of Brahms to conceal by his own artistry the technical contrapuntal means used in passing to achieve the results he desired.
The Clarinet Quintet opens with a dark-hued sonata form movement, thematically introduced by the first violin, followed by the clarinet, which in its turn introduces the second subject together with the second violin, while the other instruments provide a contrapuntal accompaniment. The clarinet announces the B major principal melody of the Adagio, imitated by the first violin. A slower passage, in B minor, much embellished, leads through a passage of enharmonic change to the return of the first theme. The third movement opens with a theme marked Andantino played by the clarinet, followed by the first violin. The Presto that follows develops this first theme, which returns as the movement draws to a close. The last movement is in the form of a theme followed by five variations with implications of the first three movements as the work comes full circle.
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