Programme notes October 3rd 2014

St Mary Magdalene, Leintwardine

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791): Quintet in A major for Clarinet and string quartet KV. 581(1789)

Menuetto, Trio 1, Trio 2
Allegretto con Variazioni

Mozart’s clarinet quintet, the prototype of all those written since (but of which perhaps only that by Brahms can truly be said to stand alongside Mozart’s), was written for the clarinet virtuoso Anton Stadler. He and Mozart had met in Vienna and Mozart was immediately drawn to Stadler’s playing, noted, we are told, not just for virtuosity and technical brilliance but for an uncanny voice-like quality in cantabile passages.  Constanze Mozart was less keen on Maestro Stadler, feeling that his warmth for her husband was at best opportunistic. At any rate he got from Mozart three of the finest works in the clarinet repertoire - this quintet plus the trio with viola and piano and the famous concerto.  

Though the clarinet is usually the leading protagonist in the quintet it is far from being merely a clarinet showcase and the work is in the truest sense a piece of chamber music - the most apparently accompanimental material never being insignificant.   Indeed the music has an operatic nature and a matching emotional range and depth of characterization.  The seemingly limitless inter-relationships amongst the voices sparkle and delight the ear as any night at a fully staged production might.  

The year of the quintet, 1789, was a desperate one for the Mozarts; income from commissions, teaching and his self-promoted subscription concerts dwindling to practically nothing.  Their fifth child was born after a difficult pregnancy only to die within the hour and Mozart’s letters of the period reveal pleas of gathering desperation to friends and supporters for help.  Were it that one could report a later upturn in the family’s fortunes.  

Further reading:

‘Mozart’s Letters, Mozart’s Life’

Professor Robert Spaethling
Faber and Faber
ISBN: 9780571222926


‘Mozart’s Women: His family, His friends, His Music’
Jane Glover
ISBN: 139780060563509


Sally Beamish: String Quartet no 1(1989)

The composer writes: ‘In writing this work I have drawn upon roots of many origins.  The unifying factor is fragments of material taken from settings I made in 1998 of ‘poems in captivity’ by the Ukrainian Christian poet Irina Ratushinskaya.  In returning to her poems in this context, set among references to music from various cultures, the quartet represents a meditation on freedom of thought.

There are four movements, following a fairly traditional format:

Andante: a fanfare-like, declamatory movement, which softens into more reflective music.  The open intervals suggest North America.
Allegro: essentially a scherzo, which is structured as a rondo; the mercurial, fragmentary opening music reappearing between two dance-like sections inspired by Ukrainian folk singing.
Lento: paragraphs of static chords become the background to a Turkish lament.
Allegro: The opening, and subsequent refrains, use an African scale; this music frames a set of exuberant duets, and the coda touches on an African chant.


The quartet was written for the Schidlof Quartet in honour of the retirement of Professor Kenneth Baker, CBE, as Vice Chancellor and Chief Executive of De Montford University.’

Further reading:

‘No, I’m not Afraid’
Irina Ratushinskaya, translated by D. McDuff
Dufour Editions
ISBN: 1852240571




Franz Schubert (1797-1828): Quintet in C major for strings D 956 (1828)


Allegro ma non troppo
Scherzo: Presto – Trio: Andante sostenuto

“More than almost any other composer, Schubert expressed the duality of beauty, its innocence and its terror, its embrace and its rebuff. With exquisite sensitivity he shows us gleaming visions and the pain of their unreachable distance; his all too human longing for the Eden beyond our grasp speaks to the exile in each of us. Schubert is the quintessential exile, feeling alienated from the comforts of society, excruciatingly aware of the ambiguities of nature and fate, both seductive and cruel.” Mark Steinberg.

On March 26, 1828, immediately after completing his magnificent C major Symphony, Franz Schubert gave the only public concert entirely of his works held during his lifetime. The event, prompted and sponsored by his circle of devoted friends, was a significant artistic and financial success, and he used the proceeds to celebrate the occasion at a local tavern, pay off some old debts, acquire a new piano, and buy tickets for Niccolò Paganini’s sensational debut in Vienna three days later. Despite the renewed enthusiasm that that concert inspired in him for creative work, and encouraging signs that his music was beginning to receive recognition outside of Vienna, Schubert was much troubled during the following months by his health. His constitution, never robust, had been undermined by syphilis, and by the summer of 1828, he was suffering from headaches, exhaustion, and frequent digestive distress. Despite his discomforts, he continued to compose, beginning a C major String Quintet for the unusual combination of two violins, viola and two cellos.

At the end of August, he felt unwell, complaining of dizziness and loss of appetite, and his physician advised that he move for a time to a new house outside the city recently acquired by the composer’s brother Ferdinand. Though Ferdinand’s dwelling was damp and uncomfortable and hardly conducive to his recovery, Franz felt better during the following days, and he was able to socialize again and to compose, completing three piano sonatas by August 26th. The C major Quintet was finished at that same time; it and the sonatas were the last instrumental works that he completed. On October 31, 1828, Schubert fell seriously ill, his syphilitic condition perhaps exacerbated by the typhus epidemic in Vienna, and he died on November 19, 1828, at the age of 31.  The quintet would wait 22 years for a public performance and longer still for its publication.


Further reading: 

‘Franz Schubert; A biography’ 
Elizabeth Norman McKay
Clarendon Paberbacks
ISBN: 0198166818


‘Schubert’ The Master Musician Series 
John Reed
ISBN: 0198164947