At a Glance
the end of his extraordinary career, Johannes Brahms was encouraged out of
self-imposed retirement by the singing soulfulness of the clarinet. The playing
of German clarinetist Richard Mühlfeld inspired an extraordinary crop of late
masterpieces from the composer, including two clarinet sonatas in 1894.
At the time of Brahms’s death three years later, Alban Berg was already a
teenager and would soon begin to compose music in his own right, starting with
songs and later—under the guidance of his teacher Arnold Schoenberg—a series of
increasingly bold instrumental works. The harmonic language of this so-called
Second Viennese School reached an expressive peak just before World War I, as
heard in the Four Pieces for Clarinet and Piano that Berg wrote in 1913.
Aphoristic and atonal though they may be, these works pack a considerable
That is also the case, of course, in Schubert’s miniatures—written nearly a
century earlier—such as his 1827 piano impromptus. We hear one of these poetic
songs without words between contemporary composer and clarinetist Jörg
Widmann’s life-filled Fantasie—in which he imagines various figures coming
together “in the spirit of commedia dell’arte”—and his Sonatina facile, a work that reflects the composer’s creative engagement
with music of the past, in this case Mozart’s popular Piano Sonata in C Major. Schumann’s
musical vision takes center stage in the final work on this afternoon’s program;
the composer often trod a difficult emotional path, but in his 1849Fantasiestücke, we find him reconciling differences and
closing on a palpably positive note.