Quintet for Clarinet and String Quartet, Op.13
Henri Marteau (1874-1934) was born in the French city of Reims. It was said that as a boy of 5, he was presented with a toy violin by Paganini’s only student, the virtuoso Sivori. He took private lessons from Hubert Leonard, head of the violin department at the Paris Conservatory and soon became one of the leading soloists of his time. Later he taught at the Geneva Conservatory and was appointed as Joseph Joachim’s successor at the Hochschule for Musik in Berlin. Besides his solo work, Marteau was a strong advocate of chamber music, frequently taking part in chamber music concerts and a great number of his compositions are for chamber ensembles. He was friends with many of the leading personalities of his time, including Brahms, who introduced him to the famous clarinetist Richard Muhlfeld, for whom he had written his own clarinet quintet as well as a number of other works. Later, Marteau’s friendship with Reger, who was also on close terms with Muhlfeld, led to Marteau and Muhlfeld giving joint concerts together. Marteau, as Brahms before him, was captivated Muhlfeld’s wonderful tone, and decided to write a clarinet quintet for him in 1907. Muhlfeld was to premiere it but died before the concert could take place.
Marteau believed that moderate tempos best showed off the clarinet’s soft, ‘Romantic’ tone and singing quality. Hence melody and charm prevail in his quintet. Reger’s influence can be felt in the work in the sophisticated part-writing as well as many modulations. The introduction to the opening movement, Andante molto sostenuto, the clarinet is given a long, singing solo which toward its end creates a strong sense of suspense as to what is to come. The Moderato molto assai which appears is a bustling modern affair in which all five voices take part equally. The music combines a bit of French impressionism with modern melodic trends from Germany and is by turns restless, gentle and calm, but always interesting. The second movement, Allegretto moderato, combines a bright melody with considerable chromaticism which gives the music a sort of wayward tonal quality. The third movement, Andante sostenuto, is neither slow nor fast, but of a relaxed walking tempo which, in fact, the cello’s pizzicato accompaniment to the clarinet’s melody amply conveys. The tonal picture brings to mind a walk in country through meadows and forest on warm, sunny day. The spirit is gentle and intimate. The finale, Andante sostenuto—Allegro molto, in the slow Andante introduction starts off sounding like music from the Renaissance. But the appearance of the Allegro with its playful, lively theme dispels any sense of the archaic. The is wonderful modern music full of twists and turns, changes of tempo and key, leaving the listener waiting for the next lovely surprise, and there are many.
Although the number of clarinet quintets is small, the number one gets to hear in concert is even smaller, generally only that of Mozart and of Brahms. Henri Marteau's fine clarinet quintet is equally as deserving to be heard. We warmly recommend it to professionals and amateurs and hope that it will find a place on their music stands.