December 1898: A young man of 17 travels to Vienna for an audition. He has worked the piano for years and written a few compositions: a string quartet, a piano quartet, a few melodies for piano and voice. He is nervous, certainly. Vienna – the musical center of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. But all goes well, he is accepted at the conservatory and he even is awarded a scholarship by the emperor. But the young man decides otherwise. Bela Bartok prefers to study close to home, in Budapest, where in 1875 the Royal Academy of National Hungarian Music has been inaugurated, in the wake of a national awakening in the multi-ethnic empire. The name of its director is Franz Liszt.
A grey and wet Saturday afternoon, and I am happy. I should be. The household chores are done, I practiced a lovely Ländler written by Franz Schubert (D.734), and now I have the house for myself for a few hours until the girls return from ice-skating. Time to write, time to read. And since we explored Max Bruch’s clarinet quintet two days ago, I picked for today’s post another clarinet piece, written by a contemporary of Bruch, equally inspired by Johannes Brahms: Max Reger’s Clarinet Quintet in A major (Op. 146), performed by Sharon Kam, Isabelle von Keulen, Ulrike-Anima Mathé, Volker Jacobsen and Gustav Rivinius.
Existential needs – how many composers had to worry every day about their financial situation and felt it as severe limit to their creativity! Not this man however. “I had a family to feed and to secure the education of my children”, Max Bruch explained. “I was compelled to write pleasing works, easy to understand. […] I always wrote good music, but always music that was easy to sell.” Quality did not suffer necessarily. Towards the end of his professional career as a composer and a music teacher, he wrote a set of works for clarinet, cello and piano: 8 Pieces, Op. 83. He also composed two arrangements, one for violin, cello and piano, and a second one for violin, viola and piano, always having the versatility and economic benefit in mind.
A walk on a cold morning. Sunrays dissolving the fog. Nature covered with frost. Delicate, fragile ice crystals reflecting the light. Moments of magic. A morning walk to discover once more natural beauty. A morning walk to help collect my thoughts. A new year has begun less than a fortnight ago, a new year with new, or rather renewed resolutions. A morning walk to start all over again trying to lead a meaningful life.