Mozart completed the score of his Clarinet Quintet on 29 September 1789. The quintet had been composed by Mozart for his friend Anton Stadler, who performed a unique instrument – the basset clarinet, a hybrid of the clarinet and basset horn. The clarinet is, of course, the most important instrument in the ensemble. The publisher Johann André, in recommending this work to subscribers in his catalogue for 1802, commented that “The part of the clarinet is dazzling and is the main feature followed by the part of the first violin which is highly attractive while the other parts are also not insignificant ones.” The quintet is one of Mozart’s most charming opuses, and Hermann Abert underscored the “heartfelt beauty of melody” in it. The premiere of the quintet took place on 22 December that year at a concert at Vienna’s Musikverein in support of widows and children of musicians. The work quickly became popular. Following Mozart’s death many arrangements appeared – in B flat major for clarinet, for a quintet with one violin and two violas and as a trio for clarinet, violin and piano... The traditions of composing clarinet quintets were continued by Weber, Brahms and Reger.
Pastorales de Noël were written by André Jolivet during the brief period between the avant-garde music of the 1930s and the “experimental magic” of the post-war years when the composer turned to Africa, India and Indonesia. During the war Jolivet had written much for musical and drama theatre and his style was significantly easier to grasp. From that period there date Jolivet’s only two works on religious themes – Mass for the Day of Peace (1940) and Pastorales de Noël (1943).
The four pieces are entitled The Star, The Magi, Madonna and Infant and Entrance and Dance of the Shepherds. The composition of the ensemble was probably chosen not without the influence of the Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp by Claude Debussy, the composer’s former idol. Pastorales de Noël are meant for an ensemble in which the flute can be replace by the violin and the bassoon by a viola or cello. Most frequently, however, they are performed by the harp and wind instruments.
Quintet Op. 39 was written by Sergei Prokofiev as music “of dual meaning”.
Boris Romanov – prior to the Revolution a ballet-master at the Mariinsky Theatre and, after emigrating, the head of the company Romantic Russian Ballet – commissioned music from him for the ballet Trapèze. On 22 June 1924 Prokofiev signed a contract for ten thousand francs. The premiere of the ballet took place on 6 November 1925 in Gotha. The first movement of the Quintet (theme and variations) accompanied the entrance of the Ballerina in the production. Then the Boor entered. Acrobats protected the Ballerina, but the Boor let off a firework... In the continuation of the sixth movement of the Quintet there was the funeral of the Ballerina. Of course, it transpired that the production could not begin with the Ballerina’s dance and for the premiere an overture and general dance (matelote) had to be written, though these are omitted from the Quintet.
Knowing how short-lived theatre productions can be, from the very outset Prokofiev intended the ballet music to be performed at concerts: “In essence, the simple plot taken from circus life under the title of Trapèze was, for me, a spur to compose a chamber piece that could be performed without any plot at all.” In the 1920s because of financial reasons the orchestra in the ballet was frequently replaced by a chamber ensemble. “I came up with the following composition – the oboe, clarinet, violin, viola and double bass,” Prokofiev recalled. The make-up is very modest, yet at the same time it is original – he really did have to “invent” it.