Clarinet Quintet in f# minor, Op.10
"Friends of good chamber music should not miss the opportunity to play this outstanding work." So wrote the famous chamber music critic Wilhelm Altmann in his Handbook for String Quartet Players.
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912) was born in London, the product of a mixed race marriage, his father being an African from Sierra Leone and his mother a white Englishwoman. His musical talent showed itself early and he was admitted to study the violin at the Royal College of Music where he eventually concentrated on composition when his gifts were ascertained. His Clarinet Quintet in f# minor, Op.10 for the A clarinet, which dates from 1895, was composed as the result of a challenge issued by his composition teacher, Sir Charles Stanford. After a performance of the Brahms clarinet quintet at the Royal Academy of Music, Stanford is reputed to have said to his class that no composer could now write such a composition without escaping the influence of Brahms. Within 2 months, Coleridge-Taylor did just that and, in the process, had produced what is an undeniable masterpiece. Those who have heard or played it generally acknowledge it is as fine as either the Brahms or the Mozart clarinet quintets. That it has never really had its chance on the concert stage is unconscionable.
In describing the piece, it could be said that if Dvorak had written a clarinet quintet, it might not have been far different from this. The opening highly rhythmic, upbeat Allegro energico at first begins in a dark vein but its energy prevents the music from brooding. One especially hears Dvorak's influence in the lovely second movement, Larghetto affectuoso, which recalls the slow movement of the New World Symphony. A scherzo, Allegro leggiero, follows. The first theme is optimistic and characterized by its rhythm, while a dreamy second theme provides a fine contrast. Again in the exciting finale Allegro agitato, we hear the influence of Dvorak--this is created by the choice of rhythm and not so much by the melody which is not Slavic.
Either out of print or hard to find, we are pleased to reintroduce it once again. Our edition is based on the original edition published by Chester although we have corrected a few errors. We could not agree more with Herr Altmann, this is truly a great work.