Have I ever presented to you the Swedish clarinettist Martin Fröst? No? I should have done so long ago for this man transforms abstract notes into music of pure, glittering gold. Fröst was born in 1970 and as a five-year old boy he started to play the violin. Three years later he added the clarinet. He deepened his studies in Germany and Stockholm and also took classes in conducting. In May 2017, the Swedish Chamber Orchestra announced the appointment of Fröst as its next principal conductor, effective with the 2019/20 season, with an initial contract of three seasons. The “New York Times” qualified him as having “a virtuosity and a musicianship unsurpassed by any clarinettist, perhaps any instrumentalist”.
In 2003 Fröst teamed up with with Leif Ove Andsnes (piano) and Antoine Tamestit (viola) to record Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Trio in E flat major “Kegelstatt”, a delightful piece, very delicate, and Fröst and his two colleagues, whom he qualifies as old and close friends, perfectly keep the balance between the three instruments despite a score that explicitly pits one instrument against the other. Mozart wrote this piece probably tongue in cheek, as it has an overall joyful mood and is of great entertainment value. He composed it during the summer of 1786 and performed it before a private audience a little later, playing the viola himself while Anton Stadler probably played the piano part.
The combination of a piano, a viola and a clarinet is unusual, and the score certainly appealed more to Vienna’s professionals and connoisseurs, looking for an exclusive piece, and less to amateur musicians. A piece for Mozart’s friends, performed here by three contemporary friends rendering the relaxed, upbeat atmosphere of people “making music” together, as Fröst called it in an interview published parallel to the release of the recording. One of Mozart’s closest friends of the time was Gottfried von Jacquin, who shared with him “a dedication to beauty, a devotion to rationality, a disdain for superstition, a passion for justice, and – not least – a common love of amusement”, as the Mozart biographer Maynard Solomon writes.
The name “Kegelstatt” refers to a story that circulated after Mozart’s death, which most likely isn’t true. “Kegeln” is the German word for “bowling”. Legend has it that Mozart wrote it during a bowling session; its origin probably lies in a confusion with a horn duet that actually Mozart did actually compose during a bowling evening. The trio is way too intimate for such a noisy labour ward! I rather imagine Mozart in his chamber thinking of a piece not too difficult for his piano pupil, Franziska von Jacquin, Gottfried’s sister.
The Viennese writer Caroline Pichler, part of the Jacquin family’s circle, described in 1844 Gottfried as “a vivid, educated soul, an excellent musical talent with a pleasant voice” and remembered that the Jacquin family welcomed on Wednesday evenings members of Vienna’s elite. “While intellectuals discussions went on in the rooms of the father, we, the younger people, talked, joked, made music, played games and enjoyed ourselves perfectly.”
Enjoy yourself. Perfectly.
© Charles Thibo