The Clarinet Pages
Bozza - Aria
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897): Quintet for Clarinet and Strings in B min, Op. 115 (1891)
Allegro - Adagio - Andantino; Presto non assai, ma con sentimento - Con moto
The Clarinet Quintet, like the Trio Op. 114, was composed in 1891 for the clarinettist Richard Mühlfeld. Only the fourth significant work for this ensemble since Mozart's K.581 of 1788, Brahms makes the instruments much closer partners than in the earlier classical quintets, giving rise to a rich, highly contrapuntal texture throughout.
The opening is tonally ambigious, a pair of violins oscillating in thirds (only in bar 3 are we sure of the B minor tonality), but in this introductory four bars the movement's key motifs are established. The transition, beginning in bar 25, is rhythmically incisive, sparking arpeggios in the clarinet and effecting a modulation to D major. The second subject (bar 36) begins over a dominant pedal and the melodic material is scattered amongst the players. A codetta rounds off the exposition. The development section begins as the exposition did, gradually modulating and building in intensity, however the previously staccato transitional material is transformed in character in the Quasi sostenuto section. The recapitulation begins in bar 136, though the opening is curtailed and we jump straight to the material of bar 14, rescored to place the melody in the clarinet's brightest register. The second subject returns over a D pedal, suggesting G major. The music reaches a climax in bar 195 with a forte statement of the oscillating thirds, though the excitement subsides and the movement ends on two dark tonic chords.
The Adagio belongs to the clarinet, whose lyrical melody is supported by the muted strings. The central section is rhapsodic, exploring the outline of the main theme, which returns in its original form at bar 88. The Andantino third movement retains the calm established at the end of the Adagaio. The scherzo we were expecting begins in bar 34, based on the preceding material. Although the initial theme returns in the final bars, the energy of the Presto non assai... remains. The final movement is a theme and variations with a coda returning to the opening material of the first movement, ending once again on a quiet B minor chord.
Karl Leister and Berlin Soloists perform both the Brahms and Mozart clarinet quintets in this budget recording.
Richard Stolzman performs the Brahms and Weber Quintets in this full-price recording.
You can purchase the Eulenberg miniature score from Musicroom.com.
The score and parts can be purchased from Sheet Music Plus in the G. Henle Urtext Edition
Colin Lawson - Brahms Clarinet Quintet - Cambridge Handbook, featuring full analysis of the work.
Ivor Keys - Brahms Chamber Music. Reprint of the BBC Music Guide.
Profile from BBC Online
The Brahms Websource
Biography from Naxos records
Information about Brahms from the Austrian Tourist Board
A comprehensive set of links
Brahms Midi Files
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