Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote the first trio ever written for the lovely combination of viola, clarinet and piano. His Piano Trio in E flat major, K.498 “Kegelstatt” beautifully balances the three independent and unique voices with both elegance and grace. Much later into the 19th Century, Carl Reinecke did the same with his glorious and ever melodious Trio for Clarinet, Viola and Piano in A major, Op. 264. The viola is also featured in this program in a duo with piano, Ernest Bloch’s moving Hebraique Suite offering some evocative reflections on the composer’s Jewish heritage.
Kegelstatt Trio, K.498 in E flat major for Piano, Viola and Clarinet
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
- Rondeaux – Allegretto
Mozart’s Kegellstatt Trio in Eb major, K 498 was written on August 5th 1786 and published in 1788, a first scoring of its kind, which did much to increase the clarinet’s popularity as a still relatively new instrument. Kegelstatt means “ a place where skittles are played” and was a game rather like bowling which was quite popular at the time. Mozart composed his 12 duos for French Horns a week previous inscribing it “while playing skittles,” and it has been assumed that this piece was composed under the same circumstances as it was labelled Kegelstatt trio by a later publisher, though it’s not known if this is entirely true.
What is known is that Mozart thought and composed music all day long, and was especially productive on long walks, carriage rides or sleepless nights, so when he put pen to paper, much of it was already composed, so K498 may well have been written down during a game of skittles. He dedicated the trio to Franziska von Jacquin, an excellent pianist. Mozart was a great friend of the Jacquin family, performing in their weekly house concerts/ parties. The trio was first played at such an occasion with Mozart playing the viola, Franziska piano and Anton Sadler clarinet. The trio is particularly congenial in nature with much conversation between the parts.
As a departure from the usual fast first movement, the piece opens with a beautiful Andante, featuring a short motive with a delicate turn presented in gentle dialogue amongst the parts. The second movement, Menuetto, is in the dominant key of Bb and demonstrates the evolution of the original Baroque dance by its forthright and confident character, stronger piano bassline, dynamic contrasts and echoing and overlapping of ideas. The central trio section features a 4-note chromatic motive and triplet idea. The third movement, Rondeaux- Allegretto, is back in the home key of Eb, written in a 7-part rondo form with the initial rondo theme recurring 4 times. It displays such characteristic Mozart writing, light hearted and lyrical with much forward momentum.
Suite Hebraique for Viola and Piano
Ernest Bloch (1880-1959)
Ernest Bloch was a Swiss Jewish composer with a style difficult to define, certainly post-romantic writing with rich harmonies and alluring textures. He had an immense output of orchestral music, choral, piano and chamber music. The Suite Hebraique was written in 1951 and exists in a viola and orchestra version as well as viola with piano. It is exemplary of his late style and full artistic maturity. Bloch was raised in a strict Jewish household, and as he grew older he turned with increasing interest towards his Jewish heritage, and felt that his artistry best found its voice through religious expression. Jewish melodies infuse this work and seem to express the dignity and fervency of the Jewish faith and people.
The first movement, Rhapsodie, is passionate with free improvisatory passages and with inserted inflections reminiscent of the Hebrew “shofar” (ram’s horn). This music is full of heart, with emotion barely kept in check. The second movement, Processional, follows the steady heartbeat of the march, dignified and stately, yet eloquent. The third movement, Affirmation, features lilting dotted rhythms, uplifting and almost dance-like, with a more graceful middle section. The final measures transform from the minor key to major bringing the whole piece to a jubilant conclusion.
Trio in A major for Clarinet, Viola, and Piano, Op. 264
Carl Reinecke (1824-1910)
- Moderato - Allegro
- Intermezzo – Moderato
- Legend – Andante
- Finale – Allegro moderato
Germanic composer, Carl Reinecke became one of the most esteemed and well known composer/ pianist/ conductor/ teachers of the age with a huge influence on a whole generation of composers. After studying primarily with his father, he went on to study with Mendelssohn, Schumann and Liszt as a young man and developed a romantic style of composing in that tradition with music that burst with beautiful melodies and displays of superb craftsmanship. He published over 300 works in his lifetime in virtually every genre, many of his best works after the age of 70. Of note, Reinecke recorded piano rolls of several of his works at the age of 80, the earliest born pianist ever to have done so.
The Trio in A major, Op. 264 was completed in 1903 just before Reinecke’s 80th birthday and published the same year. It is a major work in his chamber music output, assured and masterful. The clarinet and viola are in close range to each other; when he writes them in unison, their contrasting timbres beautifully enrich the tone, while at other times he gives them their own individual melodies that enchantingly interweave often varying the texture by giving the viola pizzicato notes (plucked).
The first movement, Moderato-Allegro opens with the main theme presented in unison by the clarinet and viola in a calm, reflective slower paced first section that flows directly into the faster Allegro. The wide descending intervals of the main theme recur in many ways, often in call /response or overlapping between the parts embedded in symphonic textures. The first idea of the second movement, Intermezzo-Moderato, is a charming 5 note motive, a coy flirting gesture that carries throughout the movement. The elegant rolling interplay of 2 against 3 rhythms presents textures that seem to suggest a picturesque open aired landscape complete with beautiful maiden! The third movement, Legende-Andante, has a unison opening of a beautiful sad, slow theme with music that unfolds with rises and falls in intensity, dynamics and texture, and at one point the theme is even treated contrapuntally. Despite the lilting folksy quality of this music, it holds more than a little hint of mystery and darkness. The Finale is a lively last movement of great vitality, with vibrant tumbling and reforming of ideas that gathers to a joyous conclusion.