Program - 2008
For both Mozart and Brahms the presence of clarinetists figured provocatively in the last years of their life. The clarinet was still somewhat of a novelty during Mozart’s early career and although he used the instrument in orchestral and operatic works, it was his close friendship with clarinetist Anton Stadler whom he met after moving to Vienna in 1781 that inspired some of his best loved works written in the last years of his life-the Clarinet Concerto (remember the romantic scenes in Out of Africa?) as well as this Clarinet Quintet we will play tonight. Stadler was a well-known musician in the service of Prince Galizin, the Russian envoy to the Viennese court. A music critic of the time wrote to Stadler about his playing “ I would not have thought that a clarinet could imitate the human voice so deceptively as you imitate. Your instrument so soft, so delicate in tone that no one who has a heart can resist it”. Only 3 years younger than Mozart, the 2 became good friends though membership in the same Masonic lodge. Both musicians carried heavy financial burdens during this time. Mozart, despite his success with many operas, was deeply in debt and Stadler carried large gambling debts and lived for some time at the Mozart home. None of this stress however shows through in this sunny and mellow composition.
The quintet was completed on September 29, 1789, and was first performed on December 22, 1789, at a concert given by the Society of Musicians for the benefit of widows and orphans. Stadler played the clarinet, and Mozart, his favorite chamber music assignment, the viola.
In 1890 almost 100 years after Mozart’s death, Brahms finished his joyous string quintet Opus 111 which he himself considered to be his best work, and announced his retirement from composing by sending a message to his publisher “With this slip, bid farewell to notes of mine.” Just a few months later in March he stayed in the Meiningen Castle where music was played from morning to night and there he was mesmerized by clarinetist Richard Mühlfeld. He wrote to Clara Schumann (his main critic, confidant and perhaps lover) “he is absolutely the best I know” and promptly came out of his short retirement to compose a series of works for Mühfeld including the b-minor clarinet quintet. His travel companion, the poet Josef Widmann, was with him during this time at the castle and wrote of an “almost Olympian cheerfulness” that shone in Brahms eyes “These days were bathed in sunshine as in the Golden Age”. This period was also marked by many personal losses including Clara’s son and a somber sadness mixed with serenity is certainly prevalent throughout this work. The Quintet was premiered on November 24, 1891 in Meiningen, by Richard Mühlfeld and the Joachim Quartet.