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Mozart clarinet quintet, Finzi Five Bagatelles

November 3 @ 3:00 pm - 4:00 pm

Catriona Scott clarinet

Oxus string quartet


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – Clarinet Quintet in A Major

i) Allegro  ii) Larghetto  iii) Menuetto – Trio I – Trio II  iv) Allegretto con variazioni

Mozart’s clarinet quintet was also born out of a friendship, in this case with the Viennese clarinettist Anton Stadler who, along with his brother Johann, was a member of the court orchestra in Vienna, and an important figure in the growing acceptance of the clarinet as an orchestral instrument. He was also a member of the same Freemasons order as Mozart. Anton specialised in the lower registers and experimented with a new instrument with an even lower range which is now generally known as the basset clarinet. This is the instrument for which Mozart wrote the clarinet quintet, although it is now most often performed on the clarinet in A, just one semitone lower than a clarinet in B flat, but with a richer and mellower tone.
The premiere took place on the 22nd December 1789, with Stadler playing the clarinet part and Mozart himself playing the viola. This spirit of friendship permeates the work, and the clarinet is in true conversational dialogue with the string instruments, weaving in and out of melodic and harmonic roles throughout the piece. This is especially clear in the first movement, in the way that the clarinet enters halfway through the first theme, passing its second theme back to the cello.

Like Weber, Mozart was a master of vocal writing and operatic style, and this is particularly apparent in the clarinet quintet. It was in fact written at the same time that he was working on Cosi fan tutti. In particular the second movement is an exquisite aria for the clarinet, supported by muted strings and joined in a duet by the first violin in the reprise. And the last movement really feels like a chamber opera for a cast of five. It is a set of theme and variations, in which the characters talk, joke, dance and lament. Variation three is particularly striking, in which the viola takes the lead with a melancholy line, while the clarinet takes its place in the middle register of the quartet.

This melancholy voice, originally played by Mozart himself, is perhaps the true heart of this work. Despite the sunny key of A major and the optimism of the first movement, the piece was written during an extremely difficult year for Mozart in which he struggled with financial difficulties and the ill-health of his wife Constanze. As H.C. Robbins Landon writes in Mozart: The Golden Years: ‘Parts of [the Quintet] seem to reflect a state of aching despair, but the whole is clothed not in some violent minor key, but in radiant A major. The music smiles through the tears…’

Finzi – Five Bagatelles

In 1941, shortly before being drafted into the war effort, Finzi finished three pieces for clarinet, using ‘20-year-old bits and pieces’. With a fourth piece added, they were given their first performance in January 1943 at one of the famous National Gallery lunchtime concerts that went ahead daily during the war.  A Finale was added for publication in July 1945, and the Five Bagatelles immediately became Finzi’s most popular work. However, the composer dismissed the pieces as ‘only trifles’ and ‘not worth much, but got better notices than my decent stuff’.

The spirited opening ‘Prelude’ is followed by a peaceful ‘Romance’, a tender ‘Carol’, the ‘Forlana’ and a zippy Finale which shows off all the versatility of the instrument. Confidently showcasing the wide range of rich tones that the clarinet can make, Finzi’s pieces remain just as popular today.

Finzi is known mostly as a composer of un-Modern English songs, and for the absolute care with which he set their texts. He wrote nine song cycles, including six to works of Thomas Hardy and one to works of Shakespeare (“Let us garlands bring”). Finzi also wrote English anthems, larger choral works, and a very beautiful cello concerto. He wrote very little instrumental chamber music, though; the Five Bagatelles for Clarinet are by far the most often played of his chamber works.


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Sunday 3 November
£ 12.00
120 available

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November 3
3:00 pm - 4:00 pm


St Nicolas’ Church
Abingdon Oxon OX14 3HF United Kingdom + Google Map
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Abbey Chamber Concerts
07775 904626
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