Episode 11: Mozart's Clarinet Quintet in A, K. 581: II. Larghetto

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Clarinet Quintet in A, K. 581: II. Larghetto
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Anthony McGill, clarinet
Pacifica Quartet
Recorded in a WQXR Cafe Concert

Mozart’s slow movements are not his only trick. He can be just plain joyful, terribly frightening, and anything in between. He’s no one-trick pony. But the slow movements really are unique. Books have been written about this special Mozart sound. Why does it touch us so? There are lots of theories, and because music is another language, none quite captures the full truth. But two ideas really resonate with me.

One is the idea that Mozart’s slow movements aren’t only gorgeous; they’re also painful. The music is wrenchingly beautiful; we’re torn up by it. Is this Mozart making beauty in spite of his struggles? If so, it’s not forced cheerfulness; it’s deeply sincere. Mozart soothes us, and at the same, admits that life ain’t easy.

The other idea is that these slow movements communicate the idea of reconciliation and even forgiveness. Mozart’s slow movements have soaring melodies, but often a restless undercurrent. It’s like he’s struggling to resolve vexing problems, but with goodwill. The optimism that runs through these works feels, to me, like a choice to reconcile and  to forgive. If you’ve ever forgiven somebody, well, you know it’s a choice, and a struggle, and a great gift. And if you’ve ever been forgiven – well, same thing. I think we all know this, but Mozart says it in music, and it’s easier to hear the message that way.

This episode features the slow movement from Mozart’s clarinet quintet, recorded in the WQXR Cafe by Anthony McGill and the Pacifica Quartet.

Episodes of My Classical Podcast are available for download through the WQXR App. Download it for IOS and Android Devices.

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  • This recording is provided courtesy of Warner Classics/Erato