Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Trio in A minor for Clarinet, Cello and Piano
Brahms wrote some especially beautiful clarinet music in his last years. In March 1891 he met the clarinettist, Richard Mühlfeld, and his admiration of that player's great artistry inspired this Clarinet Trio, composed in the following summer at Bad Ischl. It was first performed in November in Meiningen, Germany, where Mühlfeld was the first clarinet in the Court Orchestra. Brahms played the piano part and Robert Hausmann of the Joachim String Quartet was the cellist.
Autumnal is the description that the Clarinet Trio invites. The outer movements are sombre in colouring, and the clarinet evokes a nostalgic sadness. The first movement's themes have a kinship with the earlier Double Concerto in the same key. Brahms allows the cello first say, beginning the principal theme which the clarinet states in full. The main second subject is a canon by inversion in the minor. Canons and inversions also feature in the development, which moves briefly into the major.
The clarinet introduces the theme of the D major Adagio, a movement which covers a wide range of expression by continual variation. This is followed by a 3/4 Andantino, which has outer sections in A and a central episode in D and brings Brahms's Liebeslieder waltzes to mind.
In the A minor finale the cello announces both subjects, the first in 2/4 and the second in 6/8 and 9/8 time. The first subject reappears as if for an exposition repeat but breaks off for the development section. Ingenious contrapuntal working marks this movement as it did the first. The reprise starts with the second subject, the first having already been recapitulated, so to speak, in the wrong place.
© Eric Mason