Mozart did not give a nickname to the K.498 trio, but marginalia in his manuscripts reveal he wrote some contemporary works while playing skittles, and somehow in an 1862 catalogue of his works this trio was named “Kegelstatt” (“a place where skittles are played”). A spurious nickname, but it has stuck! It was written for a family of musicians who performed with Mozart - he even played viola for the premiere in their home. This is the first work ever written for this combination of instruments, as the clarinet was a new instrument at the time. It was so new, in fact, that the worried publisher advertised the work for piano, viola, and violin, with a note that a clarinet could be substituted for the latter. The first Andante movement reveals the beautiful sororities of the instruments in concert. Listen for the ornamental turns (grupetti) in the voices throughout. The Menuetto is a minuet, but not the light and easy type! Note the step-wise chromaticism is this movement, and the chromatic four-note phrase that repeats throughout the conversation.
The rondo movement (a principle refrain with different themes) has the form AB AC AD A. One hears more chromaticism, and the work concludes with brilliant passages for all instruments.
Brahms’s only example of vocal chamber music, the extended songs of Op. 91 were written for dear friends, a violist/mezzo husband and wife. The songs were intended by Brahms to help save their marriage, but sadly this was not the case: while Amalie Joachim did perform the songs, it was never with her husband, Joseph. The first piece is a gorgeous setting of an atmospheric nature poem by Friedrich Rückert, the second a Mary/Jesus lullaby using an originally Spanish poem with a German hymn tune that harkens back to the chant melody “Resonet in laudibus.” They are considered two of the composer’s greatest songs.
Schubert’s last work, Der Hirt auf dem Felsen (“The Shepherd on the Rock”), was written for his friend, the operatic soprano Pauline Anna Milder-Hauptmann (Beethoven’s Leonora), who had asked for a showpiece that would allow her to express a wide range of feelings. It portrays the image of a shepherd who is longing for his lost love, one alone and yearning to travel in search of her. The first section is warm, as the lonely shepherd on the mountaintop listens to echoes in valleys below. The second section grows dark as he feels grief and loneliness. The last section heralds the coming of spring and his journey to his love. The themes of distant lovers, dramatic landscapes in Nature, night, forest, and wandering all herald the Romantic era.
Musically, the clarinet is an equal partner to the voice. They both sing together in a frolicsome interchange that combines German folk song and mountain yodeling with Italian cantilena and elegance. It is a masterpiece of lieder and vocal chamber music.