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Clarinet Sonata in F Minor Op.120 No.1

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)

Sonata in F minor for Clarinet and Piano, Opus 120, No.1

1. Allegro appassionato
2. Andante un poco adagio
3. Allegretto grazioso
4. Vivace

Like Mozart, Brahms composed some especially rich and beautiful music for the clarinet in his last years. He had been thinking of retiring when in 1891 a new friendship with the clarinettist Richard Mühlfeld (1856-1907) persuaded him to continue composing a while longer. That summer Brahms wrote the Clarinet Trio and Clarinet Quintet for his friend, and in 1894 he added the two Clarinet Sonatas, these four works being his last chamber music.

The Sonata in F minor is strikingly close-knit. Its deeply emotional opening movement is marked appassionato, but the passion is not of an extravert kind, and the minor-key mood is distinctly melancholy. Often the writing has an austere economy of means. The thematic ideas, subtly related to one another as one expects particularly in late Brahms, are summed up in the sostenuto ed espressivo coda with which the movement ends.

An elegiac, song-like slow movement follows, characterised by closely interwoven motives and a broad range of harmonies. The third movement is in the style of a Ländler, the Austrian country cousin to the waltz. This one is gentle and easy-going with a plaintive central section in F minor that makes good use of the bottom end of the clarinet's compass. The finale is a high-spirited rondo with two contrasting episodes, the second of these being in the minor mode.

© Eric Mason

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