Brahms – Clarinet Quintet Op. 115
The Clarinet Trio in A minor, Op. 114 is one of four chamber works composed by Johannes Brahms featuring the clarinet as a primary instrument. It was written in the summer of 1891 for the clarinetist Richard Mühlfeld, and is considered by scholars as part of a rebirth for the composer who in 1890 declared his String Quintet in G major to be his final work.
The work calls for clarinet, piano, and cello, and is one of the very few in that genre to have entered the standard repertoire.
It was written for clarinet in A, which can also be substituted by a viola.
The overall mood of the piece is somber but includes both romantic and introspective qualities. Music historians and scholars have admitted that the trio is “not among the most interesting of his compositions” The work incorporates a considerable amount of arpeggio patterns in its theme, complemented by conversation-like passages in the upper register of the cello. Perhaps due to this lack of interesting material, Op. 114 has been overshadowed by another one of Brahms’ chamber works written for Mühlfeld: the Clarinet Quintet in B minor, Op. 115.
However, it is very clear in the music that Brahms absolutely adored the playing of Richard Mühlfeld, and that this adoration made its way into the trio. Eusebius Mandyczewski, a scholar and friend of Brahms, wrote of the trio that “It is as though the instruments were in love with each other.”
On his fifty-eighth birthday, Brahms was busy writing his will to his publisher, initially providing for his siblings and stepmother, and secondly for his landlord and faithful landlady, Celestine “Mandy” Truxa. Shortly afterwards, when visiting the Ducal Court in March 1891, he was deeply fascinated by the beautiful playing of the clarinetist, Richard Mühlfeld. The serious mood of his later compositions was made appropriate by the tone of the instrument. To emphasize how much he loved his performance, Brahms called Mühlfeld his Fräulein Klarinette, or “his dear nightingale”. Following his performance, Brahms wrote the score of the Clarinet Trio and sent it to his beloved landlady. In addition, a historical painter, Adolf Menzel was in the audience during the first performance of Brahms’ Op. 114 on December 12, 1891, with Robert Hausmann on cello and Brahms on piano. Menzel was so moved that he made a sketch of Mühlfeld as some sort of Greek god, saying to Brahms, “We often think of you here, and often enough, comparing notes, we confess our suspicions that on a certain night the Muse itself appeared in person for the purpose of executing a certain woodwind part. On this page I have tried to capture the sublime vision.” The following month they had a triumph with the public premiere in Berlin.