CSO Celebrates Beethoven’s 250th Birthday with Wellington’s Victory and 7th Symphony

Join the Clinton Symphony Orchestra in Morrison, IL on Saturday, February 15th, 7:30 pm, for our winter concert. It features our Young Artist winner, Kevin Lemus, and celebrates Beethoven’s birthday. Enjoy the following program notes about Wellington’s Victory, and the Symphony No 7 which premiered on the same tour in 1813-14.

The true artist has no pride. He sees unfortunately that art has no limits.
– Ludwig van Beethoven, 1812 to an 8-year admirer

The premieres of Wellington’s Victory, or The Battle of Vittoria, Op 91, and the Symphony No 7 in A major, Op 92, premiered on the same program in the auditorium of the Old University in Vienna on December 8, 1813. The composer himself, Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), conducted from the podium. The concert, a program for the benefit of the families and orphans of Austrian and Bavarian veterans who were killed or injured in the loss to Napoleonic forces at the Battle of Hanau, was a huge success for the composer and subsequent performances brought him rewarding financial gains. Up to this point, none of his concerts had prompted the public to demand a repeat, but this program proved quite exceptional. While both the Seventh Symphony and the Battle Symphony were well received by the public, it was the Battle Symphony that engaged a good many otherwise reluctant Viennese to patronize the concerts on December 8 and the three repeat concerts that followed.

A new symphony by Beethoven was always eagerly awaited by a certain musical class in Vienna and, thus, the composer had a ready audience for his Symphony No 7; but the excitement generated over Wellington’s Victory at Vittoria was unprecedented for a Beethoven musical event, for it was to feature an improved mechanical device – or contraption – called the Panharmonicon. This machine, invented by Johann Nepomuk Maelzel (1772-1838) in 1805, could simulate the sounds of most musical instruments as well as produce effects such as gunfire and cannon shots. A few composers had already written works that utilized Maelzel’s ‘musical instrument.’

An example of a Panharmonicon

Maelzel arrived in Vienna the same year as Beethoven, 1792. Over the course of nearly fifteen years, he built his reputation as a maker of mechanical devices to the point that he was appointed imperial court-mechanician at Vienna, and drew the admiration of Beethoven and other noted composers. When the French army took Vienna, Maelzel was forced to move his workshop from the palace grounds to a piano factory. Beethoven visited him there frequently and the two men became fast friends. Both men were inspired by the English victory over the French forces in Spain at Vittoria. The “mechanician” made the proposal and the composer quickly agreed. Maelzel is credited by Ignaz Moscheles with coming up with the basic plans for the symphony and for weaving “Rule Brittania” and “God Save the King” into the framework. To Maelzel, the Battle Symphony by the renowned Beethoven would make the perfect promotion for his Panharmonicon, or Trumpeter.

The Kaufman Trumpeter, like that of Maelzel, had leather bellows for lungs, and reeds which imitated the sound of a brass instrument.

Beethoven, for his part, was just coming out of a woeful period in his life. In 1812, he had renounced in a letter to his “Immortal Beloved” any hope of achieving happiness with her and consigned himself to a life without love. Then, his brother Caspar Carl sought out Beethoven; he was seriously ill and at death’s door. Caspar Carl beseeched his composer brother to take over responsibility for his son Carl. Beethoven agreed, and in less than a year, after brother Caspar Carl had died, Beethoven had a new care – the well being of his nephew Carl to worry about. His hearing continued to deteriorate, and his deafness was becoming quite noticeable not only to himself but to those around him. In addition, friends began to counsel him about his future; he should begin saving and setting aside money for his old age – and now with the new responsibility for his nephew, it seemed not only wise, but imperative. Maelzel’s offer hit the composer at the right time.

Wellington’s Victory was completed in short order – by Beethoven’s standards. He began work on the composition in August 1813 and had a two-piano arrangement by the end of September. As the composer himself acknowledged, “It is certain that one writes most prettily when one writes for the public, also that one writes rapidly.” He delivered the completed manuscript to Maelzel in early October.

Two things transpired between Beethoven’s completion of the manuscript and its actual premiere on December 8, 1813. Maelzel suggested, and Beethoven agreed, that the two men should undertake a tour of the music to England as a promotion for both Maelzel’s machine and Beethoven’s symphonies, with the hope of making a healthy sum of money along the way. Where better to promote Wellington’s Victory than in the homeland of the Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington? Too, Beethoven hoped to garner the favor the King of England as support for their enterprise. Maelzel, additionally, thought that the premiere in Vienna could increase their ‘traveling money’ if the Battle Symphony were presented in an orchestrated concert version, thus attracting more patrons. Consequently, Beethoven rewrote the Panharmonicon score with his usual creative zest.

While Beethoven wrote, Maelzel looked for a suitable opportunity to showcase the Battle Symphony, and drew on a previous benefit concert for widows and orphans of the campaigns against Napoleon. He and Beethoven would themselves sponsor a benefit concert fashioned around Wellington’s Victory and the Symphony No 7, as well as couple of marches by other composers that were written for the Panharmonicon. At Maelzel’s request, musicians of note who were in Vienna at the time volunteered their services – Louis Spohr, J. N. Hummel, Antonio Salieri, and Giacomo Meyerbeer, among others. Some musicians and some of Beethoven’s patrons in Vienna, however, felt Beethoven betrayed his higher calling by stooping to compose such an obvious potboiler.

When rehearsals got underway, Beethoven ran into some performance problems. One involved the violinists who

refused to play a passage in the symphony and rebuked him for writing difficulties which were incapable of performance. But Beethoven begged the gentlemen to take the parts home with them – if they were to practice it at home it would surely go. The next day at the rehearsal the passage went excellently, and the gentlemen themselves seemed to rejoice that they had given Beethoven the pleasure.

Louis Spohr provides a vivid picture of Beethoven’s physical exertions conducting during rehearsals for the Symphony that deserves an extended quote:

At piano he crouched down lower and lower as he desired the degree of softness. If a crescendo then entered he gradually rose again and at the entrance of the forte jumped into the air. Sometimes, too, he unconsciously shouted to strengthen the forte. It was obvious that the poor man could no longer hear the piano of his music. This was strikingly illustrated in the second portion of the first Allegro of the Symphony. In one place there are two holds, one immediately after the other, of which the second is pianissimo. This, Beethoven had probably overlooked, because he began again to beat time before the orchestra had begun to play the second hold. Without knowing it, therefore, he had hurried ten or twelve measures ahead of the orchestra, when it began again and, indeed, pianissimo. Beethoven to indicate this had…crouched clean under the desk. At the succeeding crescendo he again became visible, straightened himself out more and more and jumped into the air at the point where according to his calculations the forte ought to begin. When this did not follow his movement he looked out in a startled way, stared at the orchestra to see it still playing pianissimo and found his bearing only when the long-expected forte came and was visible to him. Fortunately this comical incident did not take place at the performance.

Maelzel drew the wrath of Beethoven when he at first advertised Wellington’s Victory as his property; the composer objected vehemently, and the promoter changed the advertisement to show that Beethoven was indeed the author and owner of the work and that he had composed the piece out of friendship for Maelzel and to finance their trip to England.

The playbill for the concert listed the following works:

I. “An entirely new Symphony” by Beethoven (the Seventh in A major).

II. Two marches played by Maelzel’s ‘Mechanical Trumpeter’, with full-orchestral accompaniment—one by Dussek, the other by Pleyel.

III. “Wellington’s Victory”.

The benefit concert on December 8, 1813, was a rousing success with the public, as was the repeat concert on December 12. Press reports were favorable for the most part and confirmed the enthusiasm of the audience. In fact, the audience was so enthused that the first part of the Battle Symphony and the Allegretto movement from the Seventh Symphony had to be repeated.

Beethoven knew that Wellington’s Victory did not merit the adulation that early audiences lavished on it, But he recognized the monetary value of the work and pushed for its performance at least, according to his letters, through 1815. There were several concerts featuring this two symphonies throughout 1814 – each a financial windfall for the composer, such that the grand tour to England was called off. Maelzel, however, took his Panharmonicon and Beethoven’s score on the road, bound for England. Beethoven contested in the courts Maelzel’s right to use the orchestrated version, and the dispute temporarily ended their relationship. Maelzel carried on with his tour, using the early two-piano score. Maelzel returned to Vienna in 1817 and immediately he and Beethoven resumed their friendship, with the master endorsing Maelzel’s latest invention, the metronome.

Of the two symphonies presented on that initial concert in December 1813, the Symphony No 7 in A major, Op 92, has stood the test of time as the more mature and masterful work. Beethoven himself considered to to be his “most excellent” composition to date. The Battle Symphony, Op 91, after its novelty wore off, settled into somewhat obscurity, performed infrequently, until the modern age of recording revived it by employing actual sound effects, instead of Maelzel’s Panharmonicon.

~Program notes written by William Driver.

Join the Friends of the CSO for a Mardi Gras Event!

On Saturday, February 8, 2020, from 4:30 to 8 pm, Friends of the Clinton Symphony, local musicians, and the Hy-Vee Market Grille are working together to bring you a fun Mardi Gras evening. Enjoy the Grand Cajun Buffet (or order from the menu), unique specialty drinks, and the music from seven talented musical groups from the area. Enjoy a great evening out, while supporting your local Clinton Symphony Orchestra!

Kevin Lemus Announced as 2020 Young Artist

Kevin Lemus, 17-year-old senior flutist at Sterling High School, is the winner of Clinton Symphony Orchestra’s annual Young Artist Auditions, and will perform the Sonata for Flute by Francis Poulenc accompanied by the orchestra in concert at 7:30 p.m. on February 15 in the Morrison High School Auditorium. Kevin is the son of Maria and Efrain Lemus, and a flute student of Nicole Oberg. He enjoys running, and is a member of the school swim team, with a special interest in diving. Future plans include a college major in biology as a path to pre-medicine studies.

The Young Artist Auditions are open to all area high school musicians, and this year’s runner-up is Jenna Spencer, a senior trombonist at Clinton High School. Both students will receive monetary scholarship awards from the Clinton Symphony Orchestra Association.

Adult tickets for the concert are $20, and all students are admitted free of charge. In addition, any student may sponsor an accompanying adult for half-price admission. Tickets are available at the door.

Enjoy the following program notes about Francis Poulenc and his Sonata for Flute.

Francis Jean Marcel Poulenc (1899-1963), largely self-taught, contributed much to French music during his career, especially in the years following the First World War. He composed in all the major media – chamber, orchestra, and opera. His songs are considered some of the finest of the twentieth century. The Flute Concerto our young artist will perform tonight began life as a Flute Sonata, FP164. It was written in 1957 to honor the memory of an American music patron, Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge. The composer and renowned flautist Jean Pierre Rampal premiered the work at the Strasbourg Music Festival that same year. Since its introduction, the piece has become one of Poulenc’s most recognized works and a standard in the flute chamber music repertoire.

Its believed that Poulenc began composing the Sonata as early as 1952 and worked on the piece off and on, with encouragement from his publisher and from French flautists who were looking for new music. He received a commission from the Coolidge Foundation for a chamber piece in 1956, but he put the commission off to 1957 with the stipulation that he could premiere the work at Strasbourg. Rampal remarked in his autobiography the following telephone exchange:Jean-Pierre, said Poulenc: you know you’ve always wanted me to write a sonata for flute and piano? Well, I’m going to,’ he said. ‘And the best thing is that the Americans will pay for it! I’ve been commissioned by the Coolidge Foundation to write a chamber piece in memory of Elizabeth Coolidge. I never knew her, so I think the piece is yours. Poulenc never wrote any woodwind concertos despite having an affinity for the instruments. Noted flautist James Galway is responsible for giving the world a flute concerto derived from Poulenc’s Flute Sonata. Galway felt the Sonata was a chamber piece just begging to be orchestrated. Thus entered British composer Sir Lennox Berkeley who had been a close friend of Poulenc and “had a strong sympathy for the French style.” Berkeley scored the Concerto to include double woodwinds except for one flute. He preserved the French flair and flavor of the original Sonata while providing a delightful new Concerto to the flute repertoire.

~Program notes by William Driver

Holidays with the Symphony

Clinton Symphony Orchestra and RiverChor present Holidays with the Symphony

Join us on Saturday, December 14 at 7:30 in Clinton High’s Vernon Cook Theater for our Holiday concert. Our special guest this year is RiverChor. This concert is always a favorite as we explore new and familiar musical themes of the Holidays. Bring family and friends for a festive evening!

Our program is:

A Most Wonderful Christmas; arr. Robert Sheldon

Skater’s Waltz; Émile Waldteufel

Festive Sounds of Hanukkah; arr. Bill Holcombe

Messiah And the Glory * For Unto Us * Hallelujah!; George Frideric Handel

Fanfare to La Péri; Paul Dukas

The Nutcracker – Marche * Arabe * Waltz of the Flowers * Trepak; Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

How Great Our Joy; arr. John Rutter 

Lua, Lua, Lua; Esther Scliar 

Farandole from L’Arlesienne Suite No. 2.; Georges Bizet

Pizzicato Polka; Johann Strauss, Jr. and Josef Strauss

Christmas Memories; Rosephanye Powell 

A Christmas Festival; LeRoy Anderson 

Please enjoy the following program notes:

Music to Dispel the Bleak Mid-winter Doldrums

It is interesting to note that several of the songs and carols that we use to celebrate the Christmas season were originally composed for other occasions, but have been, over time, appropriated for that purpose – to celebrate the birth of the Christ Child or to cast a holiday spirit over the doldrums of a “bleak mid-winter” landscape.

To offset the solemn, dignified, and reverential tone of “Silent Night, Holy Night” and “Away in a Manger”, we have the more celebratory and extroverted sounds of “Joy to the World” and “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.” Few people know, however, that “Joy to the World” (1719) was not written by Isaac Watts to glorify the birth of Jesus Christ, but in anticipation of His Second Coming. The tune of the song is attributed to George Frederic Handel (Antioch). Even fewer know that Charles Wesley’s piece, “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” (1739) achieves its wonderful sonorities from the music of Felix Mendelssohn, adapted from his cantata Festgesang (1840) to commemorate Gutenberg’s invention of movable type printing. It was arranged to Wesley’s poem by English composer William H. Cummings (1855). Wesley himself had preferred a more solemn and stately music.

Russian composer Serge Prokofiev, returning from abroad and eager to placate his critics, agreed to score the film Lieutenant Kijé (1934). The film was a success and Prokofiev’s five-movement suite adapted from the score quickly entered the international repertoire. The fourth movement of the suite Troika is often used in Christmas concerts as “sleigh bells, rapid pizzicato strings, and piano combine to give the impression of a fast winter’s journey [in a] troika, a traditional Russian three-horse sled.” American composer Leroy Anderson, in contrast, was prompted by a heat wave in 1946 to compose his Sleigh Ride. Working in his yard repairing water pipes, Anderson envisioned himself in a sleigh drawn by horses galloping through a snow-covered New England landscape with the crisp winter wind whipping across his sweaty brow. Sleigh Ride was premiered by the Boston Pops in May 1948. It makes no mention of any holiday.

Heat waves also played major roles in the creation of two other specific Christmas songs. Mel Tormé and Robert Wells collaborated to compose one of the most recorded Christmas tunes, “The Christmas Song” (1945):

According to Tormé, the song was written during a blistering hot summer. In an effort to “stay cool by thinking cool…I saw a spiral pad on his [Wells’] piano with four lines written in pencil”, Tormé recalled. “They started, ‘Chestnuts roasting…, Jack Frost nipping…, Yuletide carols…, Folks dressed up like Eskimos.’ Bob didn’t think he was writing a song lyric. He said he thought if he could immerse himself in winter he could cool off. Forty minutes later that song was written. I wrote all the music and some of the lyrics.” (Wikipedia)

American popular music composer Irving Berlin gave differing accounts about where and when he wrote the most popular Christmas song of all time – “White Christmas” – more than 50 million sales in the United States, more than 100 million world-wide. Berlin, in the more popular version, claimed that he was staying at a hotel in La Quinta, California, during a particularly hot, sultry spell in 1940, when he began to reminisce about earlier times in New England with his family and friends – especially around Christmas time. Berlin, who liked to compose at night, took down the words and music that came rushing to him and called his secretary in New York:

Grab your pen and take down this song. I just wrote the best song I’ve ever written—heck, I just wrote the best song that anybody’s ever written!

More serious – or classical – music also has examples of music adopted, adapted, and/or arranged for the holiday season despite the music’s original intent.

The Farandole on tonight’s program comes from themes Georges Bizet used in his incidental music to Alphonse Daudet’;s play L’;Arlésienne (The Girl from Arles), first performed in 1872. Bizet originally wrote twenty-seven numbers of varying lengths to augment the drama, but both the play and the music were considered failures at the time. Bizet, to salvage something from his efforts, extracted four pieces from score which he re-orchestrated and published as his L’Arlésienne Suite. It was not until four years after Bizet’s death that the second suite was created.

L’Arlésienne Suite No 2 was crafted by Ernest Guiraud, a life-long friend of Bizet. For his suite, he took three selections from the original source material, although he did take liberties with the arranging and scoring of the pieces. In Guiraud’s version of the Farandole, he augments the dance with a traditional French Christmas carol, March of the Kings. Thus, it is through Guiraud’s manipulation of Bizet’s original material that the Farandole is often scheduled on Christmas programs.

Messiah premiered the evening of April 13, 1742, as one of a series of charity concerts in Dublin, Ireland. George Frederic Handel, the German-born, Italian-educated, English citizen, composed this masterpiece over a three-week period during the summer of 1741 set to a libretto by Charles Jennens. Little is known of the reception the work received at its premiere, but it was a success when Handel led a performance in London the following year. Not until 1818 did an American premiere take place in Boston.

Handel altered and revised Messiah depending on the occasion and the musical forces he had at his command, and it was only in 1754 that an ‘authentic’ version was presented at a benefit performance for London’s Foundling Hospital.

The choruses from Messiah offer some of the most inspiring and stirring music that Handel ever wrote. Of particular note is the most famous of them, the Hallelujah chorus. The chorus comes at the end of part two and tradition dictates that the audience stands at this point, as King George II allegedly did in Handel’s time, to show deference to the King of Kings.

Peter Ily’ich Tchaikovsky
(1840-1893) considered his music for The Nutcracker ballet to be ‘infinitely poorer’ than that of his Sleeping Beauty. Following the success of his opera Pique Dame (The Queen of Spades), Tchaikovsky had accepted two commissions from the director of the Imperial Theatres – one for a ballet and another for a one-act opera. The director gave Tchaikovsky no options on the subject for the ballet; it was to be based on Alexandre Dumas père’s adaptation of E.T.A. Hoffman‘s The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.

He began work on the score in early 1892 and finished the piece by late summer of the same year. The composer made a suite of eight of the numbers he had already completed and presented TheNutcracker Suite, Op. 72a to the St. Petersburg’s public on March 19, 1892. The complete ballet debuted in December 1892 to generally poor reviews. While the suite was an immediate success, the complete ballet did not achieve great popularity in the United States until the 1950s when it was featured on national television during the Christmas season. Since then, the ballet and the suite have become standard seasonal fare.

The great variety of music – both spiritual and secular – that boosts our holiday mood does much to, indeed, dispel the “bleak mid-winter” atmosphere and brings good cheer to all.

~Program notes by William Driver.

Musical Friendships – Brass Quintet

Closing our Musical Friendships chamber music concert will be a collection of music written by brass quintet. Join us this Sunday, November 10, at 3:00 pm, Zion Lutheran Church in Clinton, Iowa.

Arrival of the Queen of Sheba G. F. Handel/arr. Hauser

Exaltabo Te Giovanni de Palestrina/trans. Cooper

Tempting Davy’s Cup from Galleons and Cutlasses Kevin McKee

Moto Perpetuo from “Variations on a Theme by Frank Bridge” Benjamin Britten/arr. Al Guss

Dave Hamburg and Lee Weimer, trumpets

Alan Gus, horn • Todd Slothower, trombone

Ron Morton, tuba

Enjoy the following program notes about the history of brass quintets and the composers of the pieces to be performed:

The Brass Quintet as an independent ensemble arrived relatively late in the chamber music realm and relied to some degree on the development of brass instrument design and manufacture in the last decades of the nineteenth century. While Russian composer and engineer Victor Ewald (1860-1935) is considered the innovator of the modern brass quintet, a French violinist and composer Jean-François Bellon (1795-1869) wrote several brass quintets in the 1840s primarily to display the virtuosity possible with the improved designs in brass instruments. Bellon, however, used a variety of instrumental configurations for his quintets, and it was Ewald who arrived at the modern equivalent of the brass quintet.

Photographic evidence from about 1912 shows that Ewald himself played in a brass quintet. It is seen to consist of two piston-valved cornets, rather than the modern choice of trumpets; a rotary-valved alto horn, rather than the French horn; a rotary-valved tenor horn, rather than the trombone; and a rotary-valved tuba (played by Ewald himself). Of these instruments, it is the alto and tenor horns that are most strikingly different from their modern quintet counterparts.

Ewald wrote four quintets specifically for brass quintet and transposed a string quartet into a fifth quintet. Wikipedia offers the following summary since Ewald:

The contemporary brass quintet appeared in the late 1940s created by the Chicago Brass Quintet, followed in the 1950s by the American Brass Quintet and the 1960s by the Eastman Brass Quintet. However, it was 1970 with the founding of Canadian Brass that the brass quintet finally became a major hall (i.e. Carnegie Hall main stage) attraction and accepted as a legitimate member of the chamber music world…Canadian Brass established both the style and popularity of the quintet medium throughout the world…Notable contributions to the [brass quintet] literature include many commissions by modern ensembles such as the American Brass Quintet and transcriptions by other ensembles such as the Canadian Brass.

Arrival of The Queen of Sheba is the Sinfonia from George Frederick Handel’s oratorio Solomon, composed in 1748. Solomon is based on the biblical texts concering King Solomon of Israel. The music announces the beginning of the Queen of Sheba’s state visit in Jerusalem. It is often used today as a processional piece for weddings, state visits, etc.

Exaltabo Te is based on a motet by Palestrina. The composer wrote primarily for vocal forces and very little for instrumental ensembles.

Tempting Davy’s Grip from Galleons and Cutlasses for Brass Quintet is best described by the composer himself: I have always been a huge fan of pirates… For a while now I have been waiting for a good opportunity to channel some of this pirate love into a composition and…I have finally been able to do so.  With 2 contrasting movements, Phantom Ship and Tempting Davy’s Grip, this is my ode to pirates.

Moto Perpetuo from Variations on a Theme by Frank Bridge is derived from incomplete work of Benjamin Britten, a set of variations. Britten took the sketches from 1932 and completed it in 1937 as a commission for the Salzburg Festival of that year. The Moto Perpetuo is the seventh variation of ten.

~Program Notes by William Driver

Musical Friendships – Clarinet Quintet – Brahms

Join us for an afternoon of chamber music presented by members of the Clinton Symphony Orchestra. The concert is at 3:00 pm on Sunday, November 10 at Zion Lutheran Church in Clinton, Iowa.

The third group on the program is:

Clarinet Quintet, Op. 115        Johannes Brahms

Rob Miller, clarinet

James Fudge and Theresa Johnson, violins

Hyun-Kyung Ryn, viola • Ann Balderson, violoncello

Enjoy the following program notes about Brahms and the Clarinet Quintet:

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) came late to the clarinet as a chamber music instrument. It was not that he did not relish the clarinet for its sound and weight within a combination of other instruments; his orchestral compositions, particularly the symphonies and serenades, clearly demonstrate otherwise. Rather Brahms had a low opinion of clarinetists as chamber players; based on his experiences, the art of clarinet playing had deteriorated since Mozart and Weber. In an exchange of letters between himself and his confidante Clara Schumann, the composer expressed, on the one hand, his admiration for the clarinetists in the Vienna orchestras who performed well in large ensembles; on the other hand, Brahms dismissed these same instrumentalists for their lack of ability to excel in solo work.

Thus Brahms’ friends were surprised when the composer took a sudden interest in the clarinet after he had unofficially retired from composing. But the transformation came not through any particular initiative of Brahms. Nor did it come about in association with his Vienna contacts. Rather it came about as a result of his friendship with the celebrated conductor Hans von Bülow who headed the orchestra in Meiningen. Bülow was the first important conductor who was not himself a composer by trade. He had assumed leadership of the Meiningen orchestra in 1880 following somewhat tempestuous conductorships at Berlin and Hanover. Eclectic in his musical tastes, he did not favor one school of music over another and served equally well as a champion both for Brahms the classicist and for Wagner the progressive.

From 1880 to 1885, Bülow built the Meiningen orchestra, never exceeding fifty members, into the finest in Europe. Members were expected to play scores from memory, and, at times, to play standing to show their commitment. The annual Meiningen music festivals founded by him attracted music lovers from all across Europe and the United States. Incidentally, it was Bülow who linked Brahms with Bach and Beethoven to form the ‘three Bs’ of music.

Bülow invited Brahms, ‘the great lion,’ to come to Meiningen to premiere the composer’s newly finished Piano Concerto No 2 in B-flat major, Op 83. There, Brahms came under the good graces of Georg II, Duke of Saxe-Meiningen, the chief patron of the orchestra. The two got along famously, and, thereafter, Brahms’ scores were featured regularly on the orchestra’s programs, and, with an open invitation from the Duke, Brahms became a regular guest at the festivals. Strangely, it was not until a decade after he began his Meiningen visits that Brahms became fully aware of the orchestra’s chief clarinetist, Richard Mühlfeld.

Mühlfeld joined the Meiningen orchestra as a violinist in 1873. He was seventeen at the time. By 1876 he was appointed first clarinet in the orchestra after having taught himself the instrument, and as the orchestra’s reputation under Bülow’s leadership rose, so did Mühlfeld’s. Mühlfeld specialized in playing the clarinet concerti of Mozart and Weber, and it was the Mozart concerto that Brahms heard in a private concert for the composer arranged in March 1891 by Fritz Steinbach, the successor to Bülow as conductor at Meiningen. The spirit to compose arose again in the aging composer.

Brahms was so enthused by Mühlfeld’s artistry that he immediately wrote to Clara Schumann, ‘It is impossible to play the clarinet better than Herr Mühlfeld does here.’ So moved was he that Brahms set at once to composing for the clarinetist as much as for the clarinet. In the course of the following summer, he composed two chamber works specifically for Mühlfeld: Trio in A Minor, Opus 114, for piano, cello, and clarinet, and Clarinet Quintet in B minor, Op 115. Both works were premiered at Meiningen in November 1891. The Trio was performed by Brahms, piano, Robert Hausmann, cello, and Mühlfeld, clarinet. For the Quintet, Brahms called on his old friend Joseph Joachim for whom he had written his Violin Concerto to lead his quartet with Mühlfeld as soloist again. It was the first time the Joachim Quartet had used an assisting artist other than a string player, prompting a contemporary of Brahms to joke: ‘it was on this occasion that the Joachim Quartet lost its virginity.’

On Mühlfeld’s playing of the Clarinet Quintet, an occasional substitute player with the Joachim Quartet reported that three qualities stood out.

He used two clarinets, A and B-flat, for the slow movement, to simplify the gypsy section; he had a fiery technique with a warm tone—and a big vibrato.

When asked if he meant ‘rubato’ rather than ‘vibrato, the old man answered,

vibrato—much more than Joachim, and as much as the cellist.

In 1894, Brahms added two additional compositions to the clarinet repertoire with the Clarinet Sonatas, Op 120, both for Mühlfeld, ‘the best wind player I know.’ On the occasions that they were together, Brahms would introduce Mühlfeld as ‘Fraulein Klarinette’ and ‘prima donna’, placing the clarinetist in the class of ‘an operatic soprano.’

~Program notes by William Driver