Classical Music – Summer 2013

Mozart Clarinet Quintet in A major, K. 581

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As we enjoy another splendid season of Promenade concerts at the Albert Hall amidst some glorious summer weather and the very special news of the birth of a baby boy to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, it seems appropriate to recommend a happy piece of enduring music, from the greatest composer who ever lived.

The famous Clarinet Concerto by the same composer is so well known and needs no introduction at all, while this recommended piece is less familiar, as with the Oboe Quartet (K370) and deserve wider recognition. From Mozart’s early teens, the wind instrument which most deeply engaged his enthusiasm was the clarinet. During the last seven years of his life he enjoyed a special friendship with the clarinettist, Anton Stadler for whom he composed some famous pieces, including the above. Such a prolific composer as Mozart was, I think of him as the modern golfer in the “majors”, as they complete another round they have to fill in their card for the course, and so it was with the great composer who would fill in his thematic catalogue. This he did on 29th September 1789 with his Clarinet Quintet and Stadler probably first played it at a concert given in the Burgtheater, Vienna.

My recommended disc for the Clarinet Quintet is performed by the late Dame Thea King and is the first pairing of the Quintet and Concerto in which the solo part is played on a basset clarinet (which is a clarinet similar to the usual soprano version but longer and with additional keys to enable playing lower notes) that was familiar to Mozart.

The first movement of this quintet sets the mood for the entire piece with beautiful moving lines in all of its parts – really delightful. The second is in sonata form, while the third movement consists of a minuet, unusually two trios. The first is for strings alone while the second is a clarinet solo over the strings. The final movement has five variations, the first gives the clarinet a new theme. The second alternates phrases for quartet only with phrases for full quintet. The third, in A minor also begins without clarinet, with a viola melody, but joins in to conclude. The next variation is a lyrical Adagio and a transition leads to an Allegro coda, containing much of a variation itself.

Recommended recordings:

1. Mozart Clarinet Quintet in A major

Mozart Clarinet Concerto in A major

Thea King, basset clarinet, Gabrieli String Quartet – Hyperion Label

2. Mozart Clarinet Quintet in A major

Mozart Clarinet Concerto in A major

Emma Johnson, Contempo Quartet – Universal Record Label

All available from