Brahms: Sonata in E-flat Major, Op.120 No.2

Program Note

By 1890, having amassed no small reputation and no less fortune, a 57-year-old Johannes Brahms published his Prater Quintet, op. 111 and intended it to be his last work. During a subsequent visit to the Meiningen Court Orchestra (which had premiered his Fourth Symphony five years prior), Hans von Bülow introduced him to clarinetist Richard Mühlfeld, who performed Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet and Weber’s First Concerto. Enthralled by Mühlfeld’s sound, Brahms relapsed from his creative hiatus of less than a year to write the Clarinet Trio op. 114 and Clarinet Quintet op. 115, both published in 1891. Afterwards, retirement apparently to the wayside, the composer continued to write. He returned to the clarinet three years and five opus numbers later, having developed a staunch friendship with Mühlfeld (to whom he began to refer as “Fräulein Klarinette”) in the interim, and wrote for him two sonatas for clarinet and piano. Although Brahms was typically ambivalent towards commercial transcriptions of his work, he worked on adaptations of both sonatas for viola and published parts for both instruments simultaneously. In doing so, he reworked many passages, adding double stops and reconstructing voicings to take advantage of the instrument’s rich tone in the lower register. Both versions have remained staples in the solo repertoire of each instrument.

—Josh Davidoff