Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Clarinet Quintet ("Stadler")

Explained using the 5-4-3-2-1 Method

Duration: About 30 Minutes
Genre: Quintet
Time of Creation: 1789
World Premiere: December 22, 1789 (Vienna)

Table of Contents

Mozart's Clarinet Quintet in 5 Sentences

With his Clarinet Quintet, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart laid the groundwork: it is the first piece of this genre (with the instrumentation clarinet + string quartet) ever, which later composers (for example Johannes Brahms with his Clarinet Quintet) could build upon. Mozart wrote his Clarinet Quintet for his friend and lodge brother Anton Stadler, perhaps the most important clarinetist of the late 18th century. Mozart, who counted the clarinet among his favorite instruments (see below under “Questions and Answers”), also later wrote his famous Clarinet Concerto for Stadler. Both the Clarinet Quintet and Clarinet Concerto were originally written for a basset clarinet rather than a regular clarinet, however (for more on this, see the “Questions and Answers” section below).

Note: This work belongs to the Classical Music Top 100.

4 Highlights from Mozart's Clarinet Quintet

Highlight 1: Asymmetrical beginning

Normally, symmetry is considered a high aesthetic good, especially in classical music. It is all the more remarkable that Mozart opens his Clarinet Quintet differently. Six measures of strings are followed by two measures of clarinet:

Highlight 2: Intimate Melody

Mozart had a special knack for intimate clarinet melodies. Not only the second movement of the Clarinet Concerto is famous for this, but also the second movement of this Clarinet Quintet, which opens with such a melody:

Highlight 3: Multifaceted minuet

It is amazing how many different things Mozart packs into the minuet: there are cheerful passages, artfully crafted imitations, a melancholy section entirely without clarinet, and even a Ländler:

Highlight 4: Snappy ending

In the last movement, Mozart composed a cheerful final (in the dance rhythm of the gavotte, by the way). Do you sometimes go to the opera? Then you may notice that the melodies of this final movement later found their way into Mozart’s opera “The Magic Flute” (especially in Papageno’s part):

3 Questions and Answers about Mozart's Clarinet Quintet

Question 1: Why did Mozart rave about the clarinet?

Mozart appreciated the warm sound and adaptability of the clarinet. The fact that he also had Anton Stadler, perhaps the best clarinetist of the late 18th century, as a good friend, helped even more. Mozart’s love for the clarinet is preserved in a letter to his father Leopold.

Question 2: Why did Mozart write for a basset clarinet?

Anton Stadler, the clarinetist for whom Mozart wrote his most important clarinet works (the Clarinet Quintet and the Clarinet Concerto), had a vision: he wanted to extend the range of the clarinet significantly downward; he loved to play lower and lower notes. It so happened that Stadler participated in the development of a new type of clarinet that made exactly this possible, and which today is called the basset clarinet. Mozart wrote his compositions for this type of clarinet.

Question 3: Are Mozart's clarinet works still played on a basset clarinet today?

Unfortunately, the original scores of Mozart’s clarinet works have been lost. Therefore, Mozart’s clarinet works are often played as arrangements for normal soprano clarinet. However, there are also versions for basset clarinet, which are no longer Mozart’s original, but reconstruction attempts.

2 Recommended Recordings of Mozart's Clarinet Quintet

Recording 1: Armida Quartet, Sabine Meyer (live, 2019)

In this recording, star clarinetist Sabine Meyer performs with the Armida Quartet:

Recording 2: Schumann Quartet, Sharon Kam (live, 2022)

In this recording with the Schumann Quartet, clarinetist Sharon Kam also succeeds in a very vivid interpretation of Mozart’s clarinet part:

1 Quote about Mozart's Clarinet Quintet

It is indeed a completely detached piece, of a beauty that one cannot grasp at all, that is difficult to produce even as a performer inasmuch as one has to play unconsciously consciously.

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