In the eyes of many, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart still is and remains the child prodigy of his first public performances. He embodies the figure (or the myth?) of an artist whose creativity works effortlessly. He seems to have been a genius to whom everything came in a kind of divine inspiration, spontaneously; as if all of his works were similar to Athena, born fully-fledged out of the brain of Zeus. On the other hand, Johannes Brahms seems to epitomize the opposing paradigm: that of a rigorous, severe, seriously-minded artist, to whom every note costed an important effort, and who exercised constant and merciless self-censorship.
As with all myths, there is a grain of truth in these schematical portraits. Still, it is important not to mistake the caricature for the face, or the stereotype for the person. It is true, for instance, that when one listens to the second movement of Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet KV 581, recorded here, the impression is of a superhuman beauty, of a perfection coming directly from above, of something to which nothing can be added or from which nothing can be subtracted. It is also true that such a beauty defies analysis and description. The harmonic analysis of the opening bars of this masterpiece yields very disappointing results: the chordal scheme is the most trivial and banal of all tonal music, a mere sequence of I-IV-V-I. Yet, very few musicians, if any, have managed to create something so beautiful with such a trite progression.
It is also true that, on the other hand, the music of Johannes Brahms is the analyst’s delight: with time and patience, one can dissect the compositional process, and almost revive it step by step, observing the provenance of microscopic elements of the musical material, their transformations, their combinations, and their development.
Mozart wrote an impressive quantity of music, in the short span of his earthly life. And virtually everything that came from his pen is good, as far as we know; a very high percentage is pure genius. Brahms lived almost twice as long as Mozart, and his catalogue numbers about one fifth of Mozart’s output. Was Brahms less gifted than Mozart? This is a pointless question, and one which deserves no answer. Rather, the main differences lie in the different kind of language employed by these two musicians, by the different audiences they were addressing, and by the different approach they had to music and composition.
Both composers, indeed, spent the last and most fruitful part of their lives in the same city, Vienna. But nearly a century had passed between Mozart’s definitive election of the Hapsburg capital as his residence, and Brahms’ choice to remain in the same city. In the meantime, the musician’s status had drastically changed, and partly thanks to Mozart himself (to an even higher degree, thanks to Beethoven, the major figure spiritually linking Mozart with Brahms). Mozart had been among the pioneers of a concept of musicianship which was that of the freelance composer and performer, free from the constraints (but also from the safety nets) of a stable employment at court. Beethoven had followed in his footsteps, affirming the proto-Romantic figure of the genius composer, exalted by Goethe and mythicized by E. T. A. Hoffmann and others. Brahms had struggled for his entire life in order to free himself from the looming shadow of Beethoven. Robert Schumann, upon meeting the young Brahms, had publicly hailed him as the heir of Beethoven. But it is a tough challenge that of meeting such demands and expectations. On the one hand, Brahms immensely revered the other great Viennese “B”. On the other, he was almost overwhelmed by the sense of responsibility this entailed.
Mozart was free to write sublime music as well as “commercial” pieces, i.e. works with an objectively lesser quality, but designed to meet the demands of the average music patron or customer. Something he doubtlessly wrote for posterity; but many more works were conceived as “music on demand”, as pieces for which the composer himself would hardly have foreseen an audience of any kind nearly three centuries after his birth. Brahms had to correspond to the standard expected of him, and which, doubtlessly, he also imposed on himself. Mozart could write chamber music for the only purpose of spending a pleasant an evening with friends. This was the genesis of the Kegelstatt-Trio, written for clarinetist Anton Stadler and another friend. Brahms declared to a friend of his that he had destroyed about twenty early string quartets. He had rehearsed section from yet another string quartet in the presence of Clara Schumann, who had been deeply impressed by it; in spite of this, Brahms had rejected even that draft. And only at the time of his fortieth birthday, in 1873, did he finally decide to publish the first pair of string quartets.
Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet, in fact, dates from the very last years of the composer’s life: even Mozart the former child prodigy was nearing his forties, which he would never reach. Like the Kegelstatt-Trio, and like many other masterpieces for the clarinet written by Mozart, it had been inspired by, and conceived for, the personality and gifts of Anton Stadler. At Mozart’s time, the clarinet was still a relatively “new” instrument. Its ancestors had been in use for centuries, but the direct forebear of the instrument currently in use was still a recent discovery. But Mozart was thrilled by the sound of this instrument, and began to employ it generously in his orchestral and chamber music. Possibly, he was also encouraged to look favourably on this instrument by his belonging in the Freemasonic circles, where wind music was constantly practised. Certainly, however, Mozart demonstrated his predilection for this instrument, and wrote some of his last masterpieces for it, including the magnificent Clarinet Concerto. Indeed, the slow movements of both Concerto and Quintet number among the most unforgettable melodies ever issued from Mozart’s pen, and this is quite an achievement. The clarinet at times blends with the strings, in a true chamber music style; at times demonstrates solo attitudes, as happens, for instance, in the celebrated second movement, or in many variations from the beautiful set which closes the piece. The varied theme is springy but elegant, ironic but gentle, and it receives several transformations which demonstrate its flexibility and pliability. The splendid opening movement has a very broad scope, both in its size and in Mozart’s use of the full (large!) range of the clarinet, with special attention to the different sound qualities of its different registers. The Minuet is delightful, and provides a space of distention between the enchanted atmosphere of the Larghetto and the fantasy of the Finale.
Brahms’ Quartet op. 51, no. 2, is, as has been said, one of two Quartets published in 1873 as op. 51; they would be followed by just one more string quartet. In spite of its numbering, no. 2 actually precedes no. 1, since the A-minor quartet, recorded here, was premiered on October 18th, 1873, whilst the C-minor quartet saw the light a couple of months later, on December 11th. The second Quartet had the honour of being premiered by the Joachim quartet; Joachim was a friend of Brahms since the latter’s youth. Indeed, Brahms had participated, together with Schumann, in the creation of a collective Sonata conceived as a present to Joachim. Brahms had written the Scherzo, which is one of the most splendid achievements of his early years. It has become known as “F.A.E. Scherzo”, since its thematic material derives (as that of the entire, collective, Sonata) from Joachim’s motto: “Frei aber einsam”, “Free but alone”. (And this, to be sure, could also have been Brahms’ own motto. Instead, Brahms chose “Frei aber froh”, “Free but joyful”). Joachim’s motto recurs also in this Quartet, at the very beginning, in the first theme of the first movement, whilst Brahms’ motif, F-A-F, appears at a later stage of the same movement, as if marking the two artists’ friendship. This Quartet shares with its twin an overall melancholic inspiration, which would be one of the characterizing marks of Brahms’ later years, and which is also abundantly found in Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet. Among the many, extraordinary features of this composition is Brahms’ refined treatment of harmony: one of the analyst’s delights, as has been previously said. This pervades the entire work, with a marked ambiguity surrounding the tonal poles, until, in the Finale, uncertainty leaves the place to determination, and clear-cut tonal structures appear in a very pronounced fashion. Here, Brahms, “Beethoven’s heir”, appears to purposefully fulfill the expectations set on him, even though, in the most intimate moments of his expressivity, he seemed to favour the idea of his being the heir of Schubert instead.
And perhaps it is Schubert who acts as the true spiritual link between the exquisite nostalgia of Mozart’s quintet and the rarefied atmospheres of Brahms’ compositional wanderings. Brahms admitted that the major challenge he had to face when writing these two Quartets was to pitilessly excide the “superfluous” notes. And both Mozart and Brahms, in these masterpieces, seem to have found the truth of Michelangelo’s view of art: great art consists in taking away, not in adding.
Chiara Bertoglio © 2022
Fabrizio Meloni, since 1984, is the First Solo clarinet chair of the Orchestra and the Philharmonica of La Scala Theatre in Milan. He has finished his clarinet studies at Milan’s Conservarory “G. Veri” with summa cum laude and the special mention for his artistic achievement.Winner dozens of national and international prizes (ARD Muchen, 1987 and Prague , 1987, among all) he has been partner of soloists of international reputation: Bruno Canino, Alexander Lonquich, Michele Campanella, Heinrich Schiff, Friederich Gulda, Nazzareno Carusi, Editha Gruberova, the Hagen Quartet, Myung-Whun Chung, Philip Moll, Riccardo Muti and Daniel Barenboim. He has toured the United States and Israel with the “Quintetto a fiati Italiano”, performing works specially dedicated to this ensemble by Luciano Berio (with whom he has collaborated along the years 1989-1994) and Salvatore Sciarrino. With Nuovo Quintetto Italiano, founded in 2003, he has already toured South America and Southeast Asia, receiving enthousiastic contents of public and critic. The same program of Italian music has been collected in the CD “I fiati all’Opera” (DAD Records).He has realised various recordings: the Sinfonia Concertante and the Concert K 622 for clarinet and orchestra with the Philharmonic Orchestra of La Scala Theatre, conducted by Riccardo Muti; Pulcherrima Ignota with the Bairav Ensemble: tribute to the tzigane music in the world; Duo Obliquo with Carl Boccadoro (composer, pianist and percussionist); the Mozart’s and Brahms’ Quintets for clarinet and strings; the Stravinsky’s Histoire du Soldat in the double version for trio and settimino with Domenico Nordio, Giorgia Tommasi and I Solisti della Scala and a CD dedicated to Mercadante’s unpublished works.For the most prestigious Italian musical magazine, Amadeus, in 2006 he has published the concertos for Clarinet and orchestra by Rossini, Donizetti and Mercadante with Philharmonic Academy in Verona; and the two Brahms’ Sonatas Op. 120 for clarinet and piano with Nazzareno Carusi.Cord Garben, artistic director of all Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli’s discographical productions for more than fiftheen years, has reviewed his dedut, in DUO with Nazzareno Carusi, at Brahms-Gesellshaft in Hamburg on November 2007: I musicisti hanno brillato d’un livello tecnico incredibile e spericolato. Un insieme praticamente perfetto e una scala completa di espedienti espressivi hanno fatto dell’ascolto un’avventura indimenticabile”.He has given masterclasses at the Paris’ Conservatory of Music, the Advantaced Conservatory of Italian Switzerland in Lugano, the Tokyo and Osaka University, the New York’s Manhattan School, the Chicago’s NorthEastern Illinois University, the Music Academy of the West in Los Angeles and the Academy of La Scala Theater. Annual courses: Associazione Lirico Musicale “Giovani all’Opera”, Tomadini Conservatory in Udine, Conservatorio de Musica in Zaragoza (Spain) and Istituto Musicale “Angelo Masini” in Cesena.Among his latest projects: “Il clarinetto nel Jazz e nel’900 italiano”, the second volume (CD+DVD) belonging to DUETS line, dedicated to the meeting between contemporary jazz and Italian music of the Twentieth Century, created with Limen music & arts in collaboration with Warner Chapell Music Italian music edition, and the recording of Jean Françaix’s, Carl Nielsen’s and Aaron Copland’s Concertos, unpublished project for an Italian musician.With Limen music & arts he has also published two CD+DVD box sets: the first is dedicated to Mozart’s and Brahms’ Quintets for clarinet and string quartet, with some of the pricipal instrumentalists of La Scala Orchestra, the second one is performed in DUO with the Japanese pianist Takahiro Yoshikawa.He is author of the book “Il clarinetto”, published by Zecchini Editore, coming soon also in english version.Is Principal Soloist at the Orchestra Sinfonica Abruzzese.The tv channel Sky-Classica has devoted a documentary, called “Notevoli”, to his artistic life and a special edited by TVSAT2000.
The Quartetto Leonardo is comprised of Sara Pastine, Fausto Cigarini, Salvatore Borrelli and Lorenzo Cosi. Their longtime friendship and their common interest for the string quartet repertoire, highly motivated them to start their way together in 2019, having their debut performing Haydn's “Seven Last Words of Christ” in concerts in Carpi and Firenze. Since then, the Quartetto Leonardo has performed for various chamber music festivals in Italy such as “Il Suono Giovane” in Firenze, the “Mantova Chamber Music Festival”, the “Virtuoso e Belcanto” Festival in Lucca in collaboration with Le Dimore del Quartetto, the “Verdi Festival” at the Teatro Regio in Parma, the "Festival internazionale di Musica delle Cinque Terre"in Soviore, the “Ravenna Festival”, “Autunno Musicale” in Caserta, "Armonie della Sera" in Ancona, Montepulciano Festival, "Concerti a teatro" at the Teatro Civico in La Spezia and has collaborated with personalities such as M. D’Amburgo, S. Cappelletto, L. Lo Cascio, M. Cacciari, F. Meloni, A.Taverna.They attended lessons and masterclasses held by O. Wille, P. Schuhmayer, E.Feltz, J.Meissl, L.M.Aguera, B. Giuranna, C.Greensmith at the Accademia Chigiana di Siena, the “Virtuoso e Belcanto” Festival in Lucca, the “International Concert Working Weeks” in Goslar and "Musethica" masterclass session in Berlin.Since their beginning they have been followed by Prof. Paola Besutti, and since November 2020 they have been chamber music master students in the Artemis Quartett class at the UDK in Berlin. The Quartetto Leonardo was recently awarded the XXXX Italian Musical Critic Award "Franco Abbiati”, with the assignment of the “Piero Farulli” Award in the chamber music section. The Quartetto Leonardo is part of the network "Le Dimore del Quartetto".
Johannes Brahms: (b Hamburg, 7 May 1833; d Vienna, 3 April 1897). German composer. The successor to Beethoven and Schubert in the larger forms of chamber and orchestral music, to Schubert and Schumann in the miniature forms of piano pieces and songs, and to the Renaissance and Baroque polyphonists in choral music, Brahms creatively synthesized the practices of three centuries with folk and dance idioms and with the language of mid- and late 19th-century art music. His works of controlled passion, deemed reactionary and epigonal by some, progressive by others, became well accepted in his lifetime.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: (b Salzburg, 27 Jan 1756; d Vienna, 5 Dec 1791). Austrian composer, son of Leopold Mozart. His style essentially represents a synthesis of many different elements, which coalesced in his Viennese years, from 1781 on, into an idiom now regarded as a peak of Viennese Classicism. The mature music, distinguished by its melodic beauty, its formal elegance and its richness of harmony and texture, is deeply coloured by Italian opera though also rooted in Austrian and south German instrumental traditions. Unlike Haydn, his senior by 24 years, and Beethoven, his junior by 15, he excelled in every medium current in his time. He may thus be regarded as the most universal composer in the history of Western music.