Please enjoy concert excerpt’s from our Clarinet Quintet concerts from February 2020. The concerts were performed at The Monarch Club at Trilogy in Nipomo and Pear Valley Estate Wines in Paso Robles.

Featured in these concerts are Nancy Mathison on clarinet with Grace Seng, violin, Valerie Berg-Johansen, violin, Andrew Grishaw, viola, and Hilary Clark, cello.

The concert featured selections from Mozart’s Quintet in A Major for Clarinet and Strings, K. 581., Finzi’s Bagatelles, Opus 23, and Piazzolla’s Oblivion and Nightclub 1960.

We thank Barbara Schoenike and Stephen LaSalle for sponsoring. You make the music possible!

Quintet in A Major for Clarinet and Strings, K.581
Allegretto con variazioni

Music notes are written by Eric Bromberger.

Born January 27, 1756, Salzburg
Died December 5, 1791, Vienna

While Mozart reportedly did not care for the sound of the flute, he felt a special fondness for the clarinet. He first heard the newly-invented instrument at the age of seven, while on a visit to Mannheim, and his fascination with the clarinet’s mellow sonority and wide range stayed with him throughout his life. Mozart was one of the first composers to use the clarinet in a symphony, and the instrument figures prominently in such important late works as his Symphony No. 39 (1788) and the operas Così fan tutte (1790) and La Clemenza di Tito (1791).

Part of Mozart’s fascination with the clarinet late in life resulted from his friendship with the Austrian clarinet virtuoso Anton Stadler (1753-1812), one of the composer’s fellow Freemasons in Vienna. It was for Stadler that Mozart wrote his three great works featuring the clarinet: the Trio, K.498, the Quintet, K.581, and the Concerto, K.622. Stadler played the basset horn, a clarinet-like instrument of his own invention, which could play four pitches lower than the standard clarinet of Mozart’s day. This unfortunately resulted in a number of corrupt editions of Mozart’s works for Stadler, as editors re-wrote them to suit the range of the standard clarinet. Subsequent modifications have given the A clarinet those four low pitches, and today we hear these works at the pitches Mozart originally intended.

Mozart wrote the Clarinet Quintet during the summer of 1789, just before he began work on Così fan tutte, finishing the score on September 29; the Quintet had its first performance in Vienna the following December 22, with Stadler as soloist and Mozart a member of the quartet. Simple verbal description cannot begin to suggest the glories of the Quintet–this is truly sovereign music, full of the complete technical mastery of Mozart’s final years and rich with the emotional depth that marks the music from that period. The strings have the first theme of the Allegro, and the clarinet soon enters to embellish this noble opening statement. The second subject, presented by the first violin, flows with a long-breathed lyricism, and the movement develops in sonata form.

The Larghetto belongs very much to the clarinet, which weaves a long cantilena above the accompanying strings; new material arrives in the first violin, and the development section is Mozart at his finest. Particularly impressive here is the careful attention to sonority, with the silky sound of muted strings set against the warm murmur of the clarinet.

The Menuetto is unusual in that it has two trio sections: the minor-key first is entirely for strings, while in the second the clarinet evokes the atmosphere of the Austrian countryside with a ländler-like dance. In place of the expected rondo-finale Mozart offers a variation movement based on the violins’ opening duet. The five variations are sharply differentiated: several feature athletic parts for the clarinet, the fourth is a soaring episode for viola over rich accompaniment from the other voices, and the fifth is an expressive Adagio. The Clarinet Quintet concludes with a jaunty coda derived from the first half of the original theme.

Five Bagatelles, Opus 23
Born July 14, 1901, London
Died September 27, 1956, Oxford

Gerald Finzi was an exceptionally interesting figure. Trained in York and London, he was a sensitive and introspective man who eventually renounced the life of the city and moved with his wife to the countryside. They built their own home in the hills at Ashmansworth, and in this quiet rural setting Finzi grew apples, collected books (he was an authority on English literature), and composed. He learned at age 50 that he had Hodgkin’s disease but kept this from public knowledge and continued to compose until his death at age 55.

Finzi’s Five Bagatelles took shape over a long period. It appears that he began work on some pieces for clarinet and piano during the 1920s, when he was still a music student in London, and then set them aside. He returned to his sketches nearly two decades later, during World War II. Finzi was a pacifist, but he understood what was at stake during that war, and he spent the war working for the Ministry of War Transport in London. In 1941 he returned to his early sketches and composed the first three bagatelles, adding a fourth in 1942. These were premiered in January 1943, but when it came time to publish this music, Finzi’s publisher felt that the four pieces needed a fast finale, so Finzi composed the concluding Fughetta. The Five Bagatelles have become one of Finzi’s most popular compositions, and they are heard at this concert in an arrangement by Christopher Alexander for clarinet and string quartet.

Born March 11, 1921, Mar de Plata, Argentina
Died July 4, 1992, Buenos Aires

Astor Piazzolla was a fabulously talented young man, and that wealth of talent caused him some confusion as he tried to decide on a career path. Very early he learned to play the bandoneon, the Argentinian accordion-like instrument that uses buttons rather than a keyboard, and he became a virtuoso on it. He gave concerts, made a film soundtrack, and created his own bands before a desire for wider expression drove him to the study of classical music. In 1954 he received a grant to study with Nadia Boulanger in Paris, and it was that great teacher who advised him to follow his passion for the Argentinian tango as the source for his own music.

Piazzolla returned to Argentina and gradually evolved his own style, one that combines the tango, jazz, and classical music. In his hands, the tango–which had deteriorated into a soft, popular form–was revitalized. Piazzolla transformed this old Argentinian dance into music capable of a variety of expression and fusing sharply-contrasted moods: his tangos are by turn fiery, melancholy, passionate, tense, violent, lyric, and always driven by an endless supply of rhythmic energy.

Oblivion comes from the sultry side of the tango. Over the melting rhythms of the opening, the haunting and dark main theme sings its sad song, and this will return in a number of guises. Piazzolla varies the accompaniment beneath this tune, and the tango stays firmly within its somber and expressive opening mood.

Nightclub 1960 from l’histoire du tango (arr. Ulrich Nyffeler)

In the mid-1980s Piazzolla published what has become one of his most popular works, L’histoire du tango, a survey of how that form had evolved in four different decades across the twentieth century. Piazzolla originally scored his “History of the Tango” for flute and guitar as a way of evoking the tango’s origins, but this music has been heard in countless arrangements, and at this concert its third movement, Night Club 1960, is heard in an arrangement for clarinet and string quartet. The first movement, Bordell 1900, had reminded us of some of the seamier origins of the form, and the second, Café 1930, had shown how the tango had become domesticated after several decades. Night Club 1960 brings us the tango in transition toward something livelier, as contemporary Latin dance forms began to reinvigorate it.

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