The Old City String Quartet and clarinetist Ruokai Chen perform Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Quintet in A major for Clarinet and Strings, K. 581.
The piece was written in 1789 for the clarinetist Anton Stadler (28 June 1753, Bruck an der Leitha – 15 June 1812, Vienna), the Austrian clarinet and basset horn player. Mozart also wrote his Clarinet Concerto (K 622) for him.
Although originally written for basset clarinet, in contemporary performances it is usually played on a clarinet in A or B-flat for convenience’s sake. It was Mozart’s only completed clarinet quintet, and is one of the earliest and best-known works written especially for the instrument. It remains to this day one of the most admired of the composer’s works. The quintet is sometimes referred to as the Stadler Quintet; Mozart so described it in a letter of April 1790.
The quintet received its premiere on 22 December 1789 with the solo clarinet part was taken by Stadler.
The quintet consists of four movements:
- Allegro, 2/2 The first movement sets the mood for the entire piece. It has beautiful moving lines in all of the parts and in the second half there is a virtuoso run that is passed throughout the strings, based on material from the second section of the exposition.
- Larghetto, 3/4 in D major The second movement, in sonata form with a six-bar transition in place of a central development section, opposes a first section which is mostly a long-breathed clarinet melody over muted strings, to a second group of themes in which —as in the first movement— several upward runs of scales are given to the first violin, alternating with brief phrases of clarinet melody. These scales are given to the clarinet in the recapitulation, and then in the last few bars of the movement, more chromatic than the rest, the scales turn into triplet arpeggios traded between the strings under the closing clarinet phrases.
- Menuetto – Trio I – Trio II, 3/4 (Trio I in A minor) The third movement consists of a minuet and, unusually, two trios. The first trio is for the strings alone, with a theme that has a signature acciaccatura every few notes. The second trio is a clarinet solo over the strings, whereas in the minuet the roles are distributed more evenly.
- Allegretto con Variazioni, 2/2 The finale is in variation form, unexpectedly substituting for the more conventional rondo (Warrack 3). There are five variations. The theme is in two repeated halves, with the clarinet joining in but only for a few of its bars. As often with Mozart, phrase structure is generally the same throughout the variations even if other qualities change – the theme consists of four four-bar phrases (Mozart is often more irregular in his phrasing than this), the first going harmonically from A to E, the second back from E to A, etc. and likewise with the variations.
The first of its variations gives the clarinet a new theme, in counterpoint with the theme of the variations divided amongst the quartet. The second alternates phrases for quartet only with phrases for full quintet, the latter answering the former. The third, in A minor, also begins without clarinet, with a viola melody —also with signature acciaccatura— but the clarinet joins in to finish. The major mode returns for the fourth variation, as does the main theme to the accompaniment of semiquaver virtuosity – given to the clarinet only in the first repeated half, first violin and clarinet in the second. There are four bars of dramatic interruption leading to a pause; the next variation is a lyrical Adagio. A transition brings us to an Allegro coda, containing much of a variation itself.
The Old City String Quartet
Joel Link (violin), Bryan Lee (violin), Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt (viola) and Camden Shaw (cello)
The quartet is the winner of the 2010 Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition. Founded in 1973 in South Bend, Indiana, the Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition has grown to become the largest chamber music competition in the world, and one of the most prestigious classical music prizes attainable today. Since its founding, more than 5,000 musicians have participated, many of whom have gone on to distinguished careers in music performance and education.