BRAHMS Johannes, Clarinet Trio in A minor Op.114
Andantino grazioso – Trio
When Brahms first heard the playing of Richard Mühlfeld, principal clarinettist of the Meiningen Court Orchestra, he had not written any chamber music involving the clarinet. But after a meeting in March 1891 he was inspired – following more than a year of creative silence – to write two major works for his new-found muse. On 24 November 1891, Mühlfeld, the Joachim Quartet and Brahms himself played both the Trio and the Clarinet Quintet at a private concert for the Duke of Meiningen. The first public performances followed on 12 December 1891, in the Berlin Singakademie. For the Trio Mühlfeld was again joined by the cellist Robert Hausmann and Brahms.
The four movements of the Trio are concise and clear in design, without quite the mystery or the rapturous spirit that pervades the Quintet. However, the writing for the three instruments is unusually closely integrated, intertwined even – prompting Brahms’s friend Eusebius Mandyczewski to write in a letter to the composer that ‘it was as if the instruments were in love with one another.’ Brahms’s technical prowess can also be seen at its most ingenious: the second theme of the first movement is introduced as a canon in inversion, a procedure that can also be found in Haydn, and perhaps this was a nod from Brahms to one of the composers of the past he most admired. As well as the Trio and Quintet, Brahms went on to write the two Clarinet Sonatas Op.120 for Mühlfeld – all late masterpieces inspired by this great clarinettist.
© Nigel Simeone