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Clarinet Quintet in A Major K581

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Quintet in A for Clarinet and Strings, K.581

1. Allegro
2. Larghetto
3. Menuetto
4. Allegretto con variazioni

Mozart felt a special affection for the clarinet, which he first heard during his visit to London at the age of eight and got thoroughly to know and admire in Mannheim 14 years later. In September 1789 he wrote this great quintet for his friend Anton Stadler, the first virtuoso of the instrument, and the first public performance took place on 22 December at a musicians' charity concert in Vienna.

Naturally the clarinet leads the ensemble, but it does so as first among equals. Mozart blends as well as contrasts it with the strings. The gentle opening melody for strings with happy comments from the clarinet leads to a long, lyrical second subject, which the clarinet takes over and enlarges upon with affecting harmonic modulations. The initial melody does not appear on the clarinet until the development section, where all five players engage in friendly rivalry, after which the movement ends with a subtly altered reprise.

In the slow movement muted strings accompany and enhance a romantic arioso which brings out all the expressive warmth of the clarinet. The following minuet includes two trio sections, the first in A minor for string quartet only and the second in Lšndler style led by rustic pipe music from the clarinet.

The finale consists of six variations on a perky theme. The clarinet leads the first but withdraws into the background for the second and third. No.3 in A minor sets a cheerless viola melody against a transformation of the main theme. The clarinet returns vigorously in the fourth variation, which is followed by a deeply serious Adagio and a lively conclusion.

© Eric Mason

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