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ClassicsOnline Home » BRAHMS: Clarinet Quintet in B minor / DVORAK: String Quartet No. 12, "American"
Johannes Brahms (1833 - 1897)
Quintet in B minor for clarinet and strings, Op. l15
Antonin Dvořák (1841 - 1904)
Quartet No.12 in F major, Op. 96, " American"
Johannes Brahms was born on 7th May 1833 in the Gängeviertel district of
Hamburg, the son of a double-bass player and his wife, a seamstress seventeen
years her husband's senior. It was intended that the boy should follow his
father's trade and to this end he was taught the violin and cello, but his
interest in the piano prevailed, enabling him to supplement the family income by
playing in dockside taverns, while taking valuable lessons from Eduard Marxsen.
In 1853 Brahms embarked on a concert tour with the Hungarian violinist Eduard
Remenyi, during the course of which he visited Liszt in Weimar, to no effect,
and struck up a friendship with the violinist Joseph Joachim, through whose
agency he met the Schumanns, established now in Düsseldorf. The connection was
an important one. Schumann was impressed enough by the compositions of his own
Brahms played to him to hail him as the long-awaited successor to Beethoven.
Schumann's subsequent break-down in February 1854 and ensuing insanity brought
Brahms back to Düsseldorf to help Clara Schumann and her young family. The
relationship with Clara Schumann, one of the most distinguished pianists of the
time, lasted until her death in 1896.
It was not until 1862, after a happy period that had brought him a temporary
position at the court of Detmold as a conductor and piano teacher, that Brahms
visited Vienna, giving concerts there and meeting the important critic Eduard
Hanslick, who was to prove a doughty champion, pitting Brahms against Wagner and
Liszt as a composer of abstract music, as opposed to the music-drama of Wagner
and the symphonic poems of Liszt, with their extra-musical associations. Brahms
finally took up permanent residence in Vienna in 1869, greeted by many as the
real successor to Beethoven, particularly after his first symphony, and winning
a similar position in popular esteem and similar tolerance for his notorious
lack of tact. He died in 1897.
The Clarinet Quintet opens with a dark-hued sonata form movement,
thematically introduced by the first violin, followed by the clarinet, which in
its turn introduces the second subject together with the second violin, while
the other instruments provide a contrapuntal accompaniment. The clarinet
announces the B major principal melody of the Adagio, imitated by the
first violin. A slower passage, in B minor, much embellished, leads through a
passage of enharmonic change to the return of the first theme. The third
movement opens with a theme marked Andantino played by the clarinet,
followed by the first violin. The Presto that follows develops this first
theme, which returns as the movement draws to a close. The last movement is in
the form of a theme followed by five variations with implications of the first
three movements as the work comes full circle.
Antonín Dvořák was born in 1841, the son of a butcher and innkeeper in
the village of Nelahozeves, near Kralupy in Bohemia and
some forty miles north of Prague. It was natural that he should follow the
example of his father and grandfather by learning the family trade, and to this
end he left school at the age of eleven. There is no reliable record of his
competence in butchery, but his musical abilities were early apparent, and in
1853 he was sent to lodge with an uncle in Zlonice, where he continued an
apprenticeship started at home, learning German and improving his knowledge of
music, rudimentary skill in which he had already acquired at home and in the
village band and church. Further study of German and of music at Kamenice, a
town in northern Bohemia, led to his admission, in 1857, to the Prague Organ
School, from which he graduated two years later.
In the years that followed, Dvořák
earned his living as a viola-player in a band under the direction of Karel
Komzak which was to form the nucleus of the Provisional Theatre Orchestra,
established in 1862. Four years later Smetana was appointed conductor of the
opera-house, where his Czech operas and The Bartered
Bride had already been
performed. It was not until 1871 that Dvořák resigned from the theatre
orchestra, to devote more time to composition, as his music began to draw some
favourable local attention. Two years later he married and
early in 1874 became organist of the church of St Adalbert. During this period
he continued to support himself by private teaching, while busy on a series of
compositions that gradually became known to a wider circle.
Further recognition came in 1875 with the award of a Ministry of Education
stipendium by a committee in Vienna that included the critic Eduard Hanslick and
Brahms. The following year Dvořák
failed to win the award, but was successful in 1877.
His fourth application brought the personal interest of Hanslick and Brahms
and a connection with Simrock, the latter's publisher, who expressed a wish to
publish the Moravian Duets and commissioned a set of Slavonic Dances for
piano duet. These compositions won particular popularity. There were visits to
Germany and to England, where he was always received with greater enthusiasm
than a Czech composer would ever at that time have won in Vienna. The series of
compositions that followed secured him an unassailable position in Czech music
and a place of honour in the larger world.
Early in 1891 Dvořák
became professor of composition at Prague Conservatory. In the summer of the
same year he was invited to become director of the National Conservatory of
Music in New York, a venture which, it was hoped, would lay the foundations for
American national music.
The very Bohemian musical results of Dvořák's time in America are well
known. Here he wrote his Ninth Symphony, From the New
World, its themes influenced, at least, by what he had
heard of indigenous American Indian and Negro music, his American Quartet and
a charming Sonatina for violin and piano. In 1895 he returned home to his
work at the Prague Conservatory, writing in the following year a series of
symphonic poems and before the end of the century two more operas, to add to the
nine he had already composed. He died in Prague in 1904.
Dvořák arrived in New York
in September 1892, bringing with him as his secretary the young Josef Jan
Kovarík, a violin student at Prague Conservatory whose home was at Spillville,
Iowa. New York had some attractions for him. Although he was unable to pursue his
hobbies as a train-spotter and pigeon-fancier, he was able to inspect freely the
many ships that docked in the harbour and to pay regular visits to the
pigeon-house in Central Park zoo. He was able, further, to experiment with the
American whisky cocktail, nineteen of which in succession left him ready for a
good Bohemian slivovitz. His duties at the Conservatory involved the teaching of
composition and the direction of rehearsals of the Conservatory Orchestra, but
the social obligations of his position he found irksome.
In June 1893 Kovarík was able to persuade Dvořák to spend a holiday
with his father, schoolmaster in the Bohemian settlement at Spillville. Here the
composer felt completely at home, among his own countrymen, and it was at
Spillville that he wrote, in a remarkably short time, his F
major Quartet, Opus 96, a work he was able to play through with the
Kovaríks. The first movement opens with a theme as typically Bohemian as
American, played first by the viola and the A major closing theme of the
exposition, marked ppp, is introduced by the first violin. The viola
leads into the central development and into the following recapitulation. The
more melancholy D minor second movement has an expressive first violin melody,
echoed by the cello. The Scherzo makes use of the insistent song of an
intrusive Spillville bird, first heard by the composer during an early morning
walk. There are two contrasting F minor trio sections, framed by the scherzo.
The quartet ends with a rondo that includes an episode recalling the church
music of Bohemian Spillville in which the composer and his wife had been active
and regular participants.
József Balogh was born in Pécs in 1956, studying first in his native city
and then at the Liszt Academy in Budapest. In 1974 he was a prize-winner at the
Prague Concertino Festival and joined the orchestra of the Hungarian state Opera
in 1976, also serving as principal clarinet in the Hungarian Radio Orchestra,
since 1988 he has been on the teaching staff of the Budapest Academy. In 1989 he
was awarded a scholarship to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra by Sir Georg Solti.
He has won various awards, including first prize at the Graz International
Competition in 1988, when he performed with his frequent colleagues of the
The Danubius Quartet has won considerable acclaim since its establishment in
1983. With the violinists Mária Zs. Szabó and Adél Miklós, violist Agnes
Apró and cellist Ilona Ribli, and the artistic direction of the distinguished
violinist Vilmos Tátrai, the quartet won awards at Trapani, Evian and Graz in
the earlier years of its foundation, and has recorded, among other works, the String
Quartet No.1 of Remenyi for Hungaroton, the complete String Quartets of
Villa-Lobos for Marco Polo and for Naxos the Mozart and Brahms Clarinet
Quintets. The Danubius Quartet has given recitals in Austria, Germany,
Yugos1avia, Italy, France and Switzerland and appeared at a number of
Vlach Quartet Prague
The Vlach Quartet Prague follows the rich tradition of Czech chamber music as
successor to the famous Vlach Quartet led by the violinist Josef Vlach, father
of Jana Vlachova and a strong influence on the work of the newer ensemble. The
Vlach Quartet Prague, formerly the New Vlach Quartet, was founded in 1982,
winning its first distinguished awards the following year and in 1985 first
prize in the International String Quartet Competition in Portsmouth. In 1991 the
quartet won the prize of the Czech Society for Chamber Music and the following
year the prize of the Czech Music Fund for its recording of quartets by Smetana
and Janacek. In addition to concert tours throughout Europe the quartet is
active in the recording and broadcasting studio. The members of the Vlach
Quartet Prague are the violinists Jana Vlachova and Ondrej Kukal, the
viola-player Peter Verner and cellist Mikael Ericsson.
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