Trio in a minor, Op.40
For Clarinet or Violin, Cello &Piano
Carl Frühling (1868-1937) was born in what was then known as Lemberg, the capital city of the province of Galicia, a part of the Austrian Habsburg empire. (Today it is in Ukraine and known as Lviv. We thank Steven Isserlis for providing us with a photograph). He studied piano and composition at the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna and was awarded the Liszt Prize upon graduating in 1889. For many years he enjoyed a career as an accompanist to some of the most important instrumental soloists and vocalists then performing, including such stars as Pablo Sarasate, Bronislav Huberman and Leo Slezak. He often served as pianist to the Rosé Quartet, then Vienna's premiere string quartet. In the wake of the First World War and its catastrophic effect on Austria and Vienna, his career was virtually destroyed and, sadly, he and his music were soon forgotten. He composed in most genres and left several first rate chamber music compositions besides this wonderful piano quintet.
The exact date of the Trio's composition is unknown but judging from the opus number, it is thought to have been composed around 1900. Originally for Clarinet, Cello and Piano, Frühling's publisher asked him for a violin part so that the work could be played by a standard piano trio, thus increasing the work's salability. Frühling complied and the trio plays equally well for both ensembles although with a different tonal quality in each. The opening movement Mäßig schnell (Allegro moderato) presents its warm, somewhat sad and graceful themes at a relaxed tempo. The clarinet is often given the bass line, which creates a lush effect. The second movement Anmütig bewegt (Grazioso) has for its first theme an updated, graceful Viennese waltz, followed by a Ländler like melody. A third subject sounds vaguely Russian. The Andante which follows is sad and reflective, the climax being a duet between the cello and clarinet (violin). The finale, Allegro vivace, is rhythmically spirited and playful.
Although the trio recalls the style of Brahms and to a lesser extent Wagner, Frühling's own originality is front and center and the work cannot in any sense be styled as imitative. The writing for the clarinet leaves nothing to be desired and as such this trio is truly an essential additoin to the scanty repertoire for this combination. Yet it plays very well as a standard piano trio. A work for the concert hall which will also be treasured by amateurs.