Quintet in D Major, Op.11
For Piano, Clarinet, Violin, Viola & Cello
Josef Labor (1842-1924), who was born in the Bohemian town of Horowitz and blinded by smallpox at the age of three, was, as a result, sent to Vienna to study at the Institute for the Blind. His precocious musical talent resulted in his being sent to study at the Conservatory of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde. For several years he had a career as a concert pianist and then later studied organ and today is mostly remembered for his compositions for that instrument. Labor knew and was on friendly terms with virtually every musician of importance in Vienna as well as many others living elsewhere, including Brahms, Richard Strauss, Bruckner, Clara Schumann, Gustav Mahler and Bruno Walter.
His Quintet was composed in 1900. The opening Allegro begins in a very leisurely fashion with a rather gentle melody, despite the tempo marking. Only gradually does the tempo quicken, and then not all that much. Labor achieves a wonderful sonority with this combination of instruments. The viola allows him to write for the cello in its lowest register more often than he could have without it. The second movement, Allegretto grazioso, begins with a lovely folk melody in the clarinet. Again the music is genial with a gentle quality. The second theme though passionate remains controlled and avoids dramatic outbursts. The very interesting Quasi fantasia—Adagio which follows has a very free form structure with many tempo changes. Beginning with a solemn funereal subject in the form of a fantasia for piano, the other instruments are then given short solos before a violin cadenza leads to the finale, Tema con variazioni, quasi allegretto. It has a simple folk melody for the theme and begins at a leisurely pace. Each variation builds upon the last and very gradually brings more drama than the preceding variation. The coda recalls the opening theme from the first movement.
This is a very fine work indeed, with lovely sonorities and melodies for an unusual combination. As you can hear from the sound-bites, the part-writing is masterly. Long out of print, it is with pleasure that we reintroduce this wonderful work.