The Clarinet Quintet was one of Brahms’ last works. It is incredibly rich and brooding. The first movement reminds me somewhat of his Eb Viola sonata, in that it is heavily nostalgic and longing. Here is Wikipedia’s description of the work:
The piece consists of four movements.
- Allegro in B minor, in 6:8 time
- Adagio in B major, in 3:4 time modulating into B minor and then B-flat minor and back to B major
- Andantino in D major, in common time evolving into Presto non assai, ma con sentimento in B minor in 2:4 time
- Con moto in B minor, in 2:4 with a key transition to B major returning to B minor into a meter of 3:8 and then transforming into 6:8 time
Like the quintet by Mozart, the strings play the theme at the beginning. This movement sets a dark and somber mood for the rest of the composition. One phrase, towards the middle played by the clarinet, sounds closely related to one in the first movement of Carl Maria von Weber’s Clarinet Concerto No. 1 in F minor. This was possibly inserted because when Brahms listened to Richard Mühlfeld at his recital, he was playing this concerto.
The melody is a reflective love song first introduced by the clarinet. Later, the mood changes back to the gloomy atmosphere of the first movement. The clarinet performs technical runs playing from all ranges. It returns back to the beginning theme and then subsides.
The shortest of all four, the movement begins sweetly being one of the composition’s few uplifting passages. In measure twenty-three, the clarinet and violin play as if they were talking in a conversation. It modulates back from its heart-warming D major into the darken B minor. This section is highly influenced by the first part and even ends the same except being in a 2/4 meter.
This movement is titled “With Motion” and contains theme and variations with the same form as Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet and Brahms’s’ Clarinet Sonata No. 2. Tempo varies according to the musician. Another sweet melody which resembles the second movement is in this part and is in the same B major key. Later, it brings back the theme from the Allegro and ends with a loud chord which eventually fades away.
Was every late work by Brahms about his love for Clara? (I kid!)
Below are the first two movements of this beautiful work. Wikipedia has some very high quality recordings (better than I posted here), so check those out if you are interested in listening to all the movements.
As always big thanks to everyone contributing at IMSLP for the parts and score.
Brahms Clarinet Quintet Op. 115: