W. A. Mozart — Trio in E-Flat Major for Clarinet, Viola, and Piano, K. 498

Mozart, mature


Wolf­gang Amadè Mozart (1756 – 91) seemed to have an affin­ity for sur­round­ing him­self with col­or­ful peo­ple.  Even a short list of such friends would have to include the Vien­nese clar­inet and bas­set horn vir­tu­oso Anton Paul Stadler (1753 – 1812), who played in the first per­for­mance of the Trio in E-flat for Clar­inet, Viola, and Piano.

Though Mozart cer­tainly knew about the clar­inet from his days in Munich (the orches­tra in Mozart’s home­town of Salzburg did not include clar­inets), it was Stadler who revealed the instrument’s true beau­ties and poten­tial to the com­poser. For this fel­low Mason, Mozart com­posed the Clar­inet Quin­tet, K.581, and the last instru­men­tal work he com­pleted, the great Clar­inet Con­certo, K.622. Stadler went to Prague to play in the orches­tra at the pre­mière of Mozart’s opera La clemenza di Tito, and for him Mozart wrote the promi­nent clar­inet and bas­set horn obbli­gatos in the score, later report­ing glee­fully that Stadler had received many cries of “bravo” for his play­ing. Stadler’s younger brother, Johann, was also a clar­inet player, and for these broth­ers Mozart added clar­inet parts to his Sym­phony No. 40 in G minor.

Some writ­ers sim­ply dis­miss Stadler’s char­ac­ter as “dis­solute,” but Mar­cia Dav­en­port, in her biog­ra­phy of Mozart (first pub­lished in 1932), does not stop there: “The most con­spic­u­ous of the leeches was Anton Stadler, a wretched lying thief who took every advan­tage of Wolf­gang and yet made it hard for his poor friend to believe that such a superb clar­inetist could be a rogue.”

Anton Stadler

It is true that in 1791 Mozart loaned Stadler 500 Guldin, a large enough sum of money to make one won­der where the com­poser, who was con­stantly short of funds, got the money in the first place. (The debt was later listed as “uncol­lectible” on a totally of Mozart’s assets; pre­sum­ably it was never repaid.) In all prob­a­bil­ity Stadler stole some of Mozart’s pawn tick­ets and sold them, keep­ing the money for him­self. A minor com­poser, Stadler passed off some of Mozart’s work as his own, but he was hardly the only one of Mozart’s cir­cle to do so. In any event, Mozart did not hold any of his friend’s numer­ous short­com­ings against him. He enjoyed the man’s com­pany thor­oughly and esteemed him as an out­stand­ing musician.

Mozart fin­ished this Trio in Vienna on August 5, 1786. Ear­lier that year he had com­pleted his opera Le nozze di Figaro, two piano con­cer­tos (No. 23 in A major and No. 24 in C minor), and numer­ous other works, among them the Twelve Duos for Two Wind Instru­ments, K.487. Across the head of the auto­graph score for the last set of pieces, Mozart scrawled, “Vienna, the 27th of July 1786, while bowl­ing.” No such head­ing appears on the score of the Trio for Clar­inet, Viola, and Piano, writ­ten only nine days later, even though it is known as the Kegel­statt (“bowl­ing alley”) Trio.  It is entirely pos­si­ble, of course, that Mozart did write the Trio in the bowl­ing alley, though some writ­ers have sug­gested that he just thought about the work while relax­ing dur­ing the game.

The Trio was writ­ten for one of Mozart’s favorite piano stu­dents, Franziska Got­tfried von Jacquin (sis­ter of one of the composer’s best friend, Got­tfried von Jacquin), who played the piano in the first per­for­mance. In all prob­a­bil­ity, Mozart him­self played the viola on that occasion.

In is an unusual work. The tim­bres of clar­inet and viola give the music an espe­cially inti­mate and gen­tle char­ac­ter, as does the fact the first move­ment is not the typ­i­cal Alle­gro, but a slower Andante (and in 6/8 time). Through­out the three instru­ments are beau­ti­fully matched, and the sense of unity arises from the music’s con­cen­tra­tion and the way Mozart uti­lizes each instrument’s strength.

The arti­cle orig­i­nally appeared in the pro­gram book of the San Fran­cisco Sym­phony and is used here with per­mis­sion.