Saturday, 13 December 2014


“It is not hard to compose, but what is fabulously hard is to leave the superfluous notes under the table.” - Johannes Brahms

For Music Saturday a most delicious work for Clarinet and String Quartet by Johannes Brahms (7 May 1833 - 3 April 1897). It is his Clarinet Quintet in B minor, Op. 115, written in 1891.

00:00 - I. Allegro
12:21 - II. Adagio
23:26 - III. Andantino - Presto non assai, ma con sentimento
28:03 - IV. Con moto

When Clara Schumann first heard this quintet, she wrote: “It is a really marvellous work, the wailing clarinet takes hold of one; it is most moving. And what interesting music, deep and full of meaning!” These poignant words by Brahms’ closest female friend belie Brahms' disingenuous comparison of the work with his earlier Clarinet Trio: “[It is] a far greater piece of foolishness.”

From the first movement, the music pulsates with yearning. In its opening measures are the seeds that germinate in the rest of composition, which is equally perfect in its power of evocation and its structural rigour. The autumnal mood of the work results in part from the subtle shifts throughout between the closely related keys of D major and B minor.

Most notable is the second movement Adagio, a tender love song whose wistfulness seems to reflect the entire decline of the late Romantic musical ethos. Of course there is more to this piece than its dreamlike evocations. Listen to the Presto, with its Hungarian folk-dance style and the finale’s intriguing variations, the last of which returns full circle to the opening theme of the first movement.

The quintet received its first private performance on 24 November 1891 in Meiningen, with Richard Mühlfeld and the Joachim Quartet, led by Joseph Joachim who often collaborated with Brahms. The public premiere was on 12 December 1891 in Berlin.

1 comment:

  1. When examining Belle Epoque lifestyles, I always come back to Paris and Vienna, but there was something special about Berlin as well. Oh the music, architecture, science, theatre, art!!

    In 1891 in Berlin, they had no idea of the carnage that was to ensue less than a generation later.