Brahms Clarinet Quintet

Johannes Brahms

We look forward to seeing you at our last concert for 2012 on Saturday 10th November, 7.30pm at St Philip’s Church, York Street, CBD. On the program are chamber works for strings, winds and piano by Martinu, Arnold, Brahms as well as the premiere of Mestizo Dances by Nigel Ubrihien. 


Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) – Clarinet Quintet in B minor, Op. 115

Brahms is one of the most celebrated composers of the Romantic period. His musical style perfectly unites strong links with the clear structural forms of the Classical masters with the rhythmic, harmonic and melodic invention that allows the emotional expression of a true Romantic artist. Nearly all of his compositions are considered to be masterpieces in their genre, and are now central to the repertoire of orchestras and ensembles worldwide.


Brahms’ Clarinet Quintet was composed in 1891, a year after he resolved to retire from musical composition. This resolve was quickly forgotten when he heard a performance of a Weber concerto by the clarinetist Richard Mühlfeld (1856-1907) who was a musician of extreme technical facility, musicality and expression. So inspired was Brahms that he quickly began work on two chamber music compositions that featured the clarinet, a trio and a quintet, and both these works are now considered to be amongst the finest of all Brahms’ chamber compositions.


The quintet is often described as autumnal or nostalgic, due to its B minor key, generally subdued mood and its integrated composition. Unlike some works written with similar instrumentation where the strings merely accompany the solo clarinet line, in Brahms’ quintet he writes five equal voices. The first movement is the longest and has a feeling of gentle sadness and an elegiac sweetness. The second movement alternates a reflective lullaby with a rhapsodic, gypsy-like middle section, which features spectacular clarinet runs accompanied by shimmering string writing. After a gentle opening the third movement moves into a quick scherzo, and then the concluding movement is a set of variations on an original theme. The quintet finishes with a coda that uses material from the very opening of the work, the most explicit example of the thematic and harmonic integration that does in fact permeate the entire composition.


The quintet was premiered with Mühlfeld on the clarinet, and it has been said that no subsequent chamber work for clarinet has ever matched this masterpiece.


– notes by Clare Kahn


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