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Trio in Bb for Clarinet, Cello and Piano, Op.28 – by Ferdinand Ries (1784-1838)
Clarinet Trio, Op.114 – by Johannes Brahms (1833- 1897)
Fantasy-Sonata for Clarinet and Piano – by John Ireland (1879-1962)
Ferdinand Ries was born into a musical family in Bonn, Germany. He has gone down in history most notably as being closely associated with Beethoven as his pupil, personal friend, performer of his works and later as Beethoven’s hearing failed, his secretary, copyist, advocate to publishers and the public and author of a book of reminiscences about Beethoven published after the great composer’s death. Yet Ries was a fine pianist and composer in his own right and experienced notoriety and success. He concertized across Europe, taught music, held various music directorships in different countries and was quite a prolific and excellent composer of symphonies, piano concertos and chamber works. His Trio in Bb for Clarinet, Cello and Piano, Op.28 is, not surprisingly, very similar in musical style to Beethoven and is indeed a finely crafted and masterful work. The first movement (Allegro) is a jaunty piece which offers a free exchange of musical ideas between all three instruments with much forward momentum. The second movement (Scherzo) is light and optimistic with a delightful tumbling of ideas which contrast the smoother flowing Trio section. In the third movement (Adagio), the piano introduces the main theme, a melody of great beauty and meaning, which in turn passes to the cello, and then to the clarinet. The trio ends with a tuneful fourth movement (Rondo – Allegro ma non troppo), appealing and demonstrative of a commanding writing most worthy of a student of Beethoven’s!
Johannes Brahms wrote all of his clarinet chamber music in the last decade of his life, in the 1890’s. He had gone to Meiningen in 1891 and was very impressed by the principal clarinetist of the court orchestra that he heard there, Richard Muhlfeld who inspired him to write for him. The clarinet is a particularly expressive instrument capable of such melancholic tones that captured Brahms imagination and offered him the perfect vehicle to express his most exquisite autumnal works: the two clarinet sonatas, the Clarinet Quintet, and this Clarinet Trio, Op.114 which he wrote in 1891. It was first performed in December of that same year. The work is richly textured and is both beautiful and profound. It has been said that it sounds throughout as if the clarinet and the cello are ‘in love.’ The first movement (Allegro) grows from the slow opening bars of a simple cello solo into music of great sweeping lines and instrumental exchange of ideas. There is great beauty and peace expressed in the second movement (Adagio) through the skillful interweaving of all three instruments. The third movement (Andantino grazioso) is graceful and delightful yet dignified. The work concludes with an energetic fourth movement (Allegro), written in taut lines with intense echoing and overlapping of musical ideas.
The English composer John Ireland studied and later taught at the Royal College of Music. He had a thorough education and studied and admired the works of the great composers, especially Beethoven, Brahms and also the more contemporary Debussy and Ravel. He had a successful career and is known for developing his own compositional style of ‘English impressionism.’ Ireland wrote theFantasy-Sonata for Clarinet and Piano in 1943 and it was his only piece for clarinet, and one of his last pieces before retirement. He dedicated it to clarinetist, Frederick Thurston and it was premiered by Thurston and Ireland in 1944. This piece was inspired, in part, by the Roman comic poetic novel of the first century, “Satyricon,” a story describing the misadventures of the male narrator and his 16 year old boy lover. The piece is through composed in a very loose sonata form. There is in this music, the sense of the narrative as if wandering through an exotic landscape with frequent shifts in tempo, tonality, mood, texture. The piano writing is lush, evocative and virtuosic. The clarinet writing explores the entire range and expressive capability of the instrument and unites exquisitely with the piano. This piece is considered Ireland’s finest chamber work.