Mozart, Quintette avec clarinette et quatuor à cordes en La Majeur K. 581
Han Kim, clarinet
Clarinettist Anton Stadler performed a number of Mozart’s pieces: he included the Wind Serenade in his own benefit concert in 1784, and played in the premieres of the masonic Maurerische Trauermusik and the Kegelstatt Trio in 1786 before giving the first performance of Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet at a concert of the Tonkünstler-Societät in Vienna on 22 December 1789. While Mozart could find Stadler’s personality trying, he continued to admire his playing, subsequently composing for him the Clarinet Concerto (1791) and a prominent part in arias from the opera La clemenza di Tito (1791).
Of all the works Mozart composed for Stadler, probably only the Quintet was intended for his new type of clarinet, which had more chromatic keys and an extended lower range. Mozart explores this in the clarinet’s fast-moving figuration of the first movement. The strings are muted in the Larghetto, providing a gentle undulating accompaniment to the clarinet’s soulful melody before a dialogue begins with the violin. The Minuet features two trios, the first for string quartet alone and in a minor key; in the second the clarinet returns, as does the major mode. The final movement is a set of theme and variations, which allows individual members of the ensemble to shine – including the viola in the third variation, the only one which moves to the minor. Brief respite is found in the soaring melodies and filigree of the Adagio section before the main theme returns in a lively coda.
Beethoven, Sonate pour piano No. 14 en do dièse mineur Op. 27 No. 2 ‘Clair de Lune’
Frank Braley, piano
Sonata quasi una fantasia. Beethoven’s description of his fourteenth piano sonata, composed in 1801, signals its improvisatory qualities. From its famous opening onwards it is apparent that classical conventions are being discarded in favour of something in a more romantic spirit. The opening Adagio sostenuto is in sonata form, as might be expected, but meditates on the unusual C-sharp minor tonality and the sound qualities of the keyboard instrument, with Beethoven instructing that the opening should be played throughout with the utmost delicacy and without dampers (Si deve suonare tutto questo pezzo delicatissimamente e sense sordino). The Allegretto moves to the major, with off-kilter rhythms and accents. The finale, Presto agitato, in scale, verve, and virtuosity, is full of Beethovenian tempest.
The nascent romanticism of Beethoven’s music is enhanced by its history. He dedicated the Sonata to his piano student – probably onetime love interest, later good friend – the Countess Giulietta Guicciardi. The nickname for this sonata, ‘Moonlight’, gained currency relatively quickly, becoming a common reference point from the 1830s onwards. Its source was probably fictional: Theodor: eine musikalische Skizze, by German poet and critic Ludwig Rellstab published in the Berliner allgemeiner musikalische Zeitung in 1824 (a journal Beethoven would have known). One musician character describes Op. 27 no. 2 as follows: ‘The lake reposes in twilit moon-shimmer (in dämmerndem Mondenschimmer), muffled waves strike the dark shore; gloomy wooded mountains rise and close off the holy place from the world; ghostly swans glide with whispering rustles on the tide, and an Aeolian harp sends down mysterious tones of lovelorn yearning from the ruins’.
Brahms Quatuor avec piano No. 1 en Sol mineur Op. 25
Liza Ferschtman, violin
Yuko Hara, alto
Sung-Won Yang, cello
Enrico Pace, piano
On his first visit to Vienna in autumn 1862 Johannes Brahms, armed with introductions from Clara Schumann and other musician friends, impressed audiences with performances of his Handel Variations op. 24 and his grandly conceived G-minor Piano Quartet op. 25. The opening movement of op. 25 explores a wide range of melodic ideas and harmonic areas in an expanded sonata form. The traditional scherzo or minuet is replaced by an Intermezzo, which begins with an urgent, swaying theme in C minor played by muted strings. Both this movement and the following slow movement use contrast to great effect: particular lyrical or rhythmic ideas characterise each section, their differences highlighted by changes of key.
In the Rondo-finale “alla Zingarese” Brahms introduces the style hongrois. Evocations of Hungarian “gypsy” music had long been popular among classical composers: from the comfort of urban centres such as Vienna, folkish strains, with their associated social and musical liberties, seemed scintillatingly exotic. The rondo theme of op. 25’s finale is characterised by foot-stomping rhythms, melodic embellishments, dynamic accents, and spread chords and repeated notes in the bassline, all of which conveys a dance-band-like energy. The irregular phrases make the melody plunge into its next iteration without pausing for breath. This theme is interspersed with contrasting sections, with include a slower, offbeat, rather proud melody in G major, a lugubrious melody for strings with a touch of the café band, and a virtuoso cadenza for the piano that careers into the wildly foreign key of F-sharp minor. There is even a glance towards a fugue – Brahms, perhaps, nodding to the legacy of Bach and Beethoven – but this quickly dissipates into the final, triumphant return of the main theme.