REGER: Clarinet Quintet, Op. 146 / String Quartet, Op. 109
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Max Reger (1873-1916)
Clarinet Quintet in Amajor, Op.146
String Quartet in Eflat major, Op.109
Max Reger owed his early musical leanings to the example and enthusiasmof his father, a schoolmaster and amateur musician, and his early training tothe town organist of Weiden, Adalbert Lindner. Reger was born in 1873 at Brandin the Upper Palatinate of Bavaria. The following year the family moved toWeiden and it was there that he spent his childhood and adolescence, entering acourse of teacher training. Lindner had sent examples of Reger's early work asa composer to Hugo Riemann, who accepted him as a pupil, initially atSondershausen and then, as his own assistant, in Wiesbaden. Military service,which affected Reger's health and spirits, was followed by a period at homewith his parents in Weiden and a continuing series of compositions, inparticular for the organ. These included a monumental series of choralefantasias and other works, often, it seems, designed to challenge the techniqueof his friend Karl Straube, a noted performer of Reger's organ music.
In 1901 Reger moved to Munich, where he spent the next six years. Hisposition in musical life was not without difficulty, since he was seen as achampion of absolute music and as hostile, at this time, to programme music,represented by the successors of Liszt and Wagner. He was, however, successfulas a pianist and was gradually able to find an audience for his compositions.
The period in Munich saw the writing of his Sinfonietta, of chambermusic, and of his important Variations and Fugue on a Theme of J.S. Bach forpiano, and his Variation, and Fugue on a Theme of Beethoven, the lattersubsequently orchestrated. In 1907 he took up an appointment as Royal SaxonProfessor of Composition at the Conservatory of Leipzig. His music now found astill wider international audience, supported by his own distinction as aperformer, with concert appearances in London, St Petersburg, the Netherlandsand Austria, and throughout Germany.
The year 1911 brought an invitation from the Duke of Saxe-Meiningen toaccept the position of conductor of the court orchestra, an ensembleestablished by Hans von B??low and conducted, at the outset of his career, byRichard Strauss. Reger held this position until the death of the Duke,resigning a few days later, on 1st July 1914. With the outbreak of war theorchestra was disbanded. He spent his final years based in Jena, but continuedhis activities as a composer and as a concert performer. He died in Leipzig inMay 1916 on his way back from a concert tour of the Netherlands.
Reger was a prolific composer, continuing the tradition of Bach, Mozartand the great German composers of the nineteenth century, with a technicalmastery and command of harmonic and contrapuntal resources that allowed him toexpand the bounds of tonality in chromatic exploration. His organ compositions,in particular, represent a very significant addition to the repertoire of theinstrument. He left an equally extensive body of chamber music, with songs, choralworks and orchestral compositions.
The Clarinet Quintet in A major, Opus 146, was Reger's lastcompleted work and was written in 1915, to be published with a dedication toKarl Wendling. Here he continues to deploy all the resources of chromaticism ina closely woven composition. The first movement, in the expected tripartiteform and marked Moderato ed amabile, starts with a first theme, followedby a secondary theme in E major, marked tranquillo and introduced by thefirst violin. Elements of this exposition appear in a central development thatleads to a return of the second theme in the key in which it first appeared.
The recapitulation proper follows, with a version of the first subject,followed immediately by the second theme, now transposed. The second movementis a B minor scherzo, offering immediate contrasts of rhythm between the clarinet and muted strings,while the viola, unmuted, provides a running counterpoint. The trio section, inG major, avoids cross-rhythms and is generally more straightforward in textureand relaxed in mood. The scherzo returns to end the movement. The E major slowmovement has a more elaborate central section and finds room for reminiscencesof the secondary theme of the first movement, with its descending contour. Thequintet ends with a theme and variations. The theme itself, marked grazioso,is presented by the strings and the clarinet makes a more significantappearance in the first variation, with its cross-rhythms. The second variationmakes use of shorter note values, to be followed by a rapid Vivace. Agentler minor key version of the material leads to another Vivace and aslower variation. There is a further Vivace and a final, slower, Sostenuto,with the fragments of the theme heard in their original form.
Reger wrote his StringQuartet in E flat major, Opus 109, in 1909 and dedicated it to the PrivyConnsellor, Professor Adolf Wach, the husband of Mendelssohn's youngestdaughter Lili and, in Ethel Smyth's lively account of her relationship with thefamily, an intrepid and enthusiastic mountaineer. The first movement, intripartite sonata-allegro form, opens with a principal theme, shifting in key beforeit has gone far. There is varied transitional material, with elements ofstarker outline before the chordal secondary theme proper. The centraldevelopment of the themes and motifs brings an element of counterpoint, and thecello leads to the recapitulation in which the two subjects return. The finalcoda brings a reminiscence of the first theme. The G minor second movement,marked Quasi presto, is introduced by a rapidly descending minor scaleand an urgent rhythmic figure from the cello. Contrast is provided by anascending version of the main theme and its further development. The expressiveA flat major slow movement in 6/8 metre opens with a chordally accompaniedmelody and has a central section that includes references to the second themeof the first movement. The quartet ends with an energetic fugue, its extendedsubject announced by the first viol in and marked sempre grazioso. Thisis answered by the second violin, followed by the viola and the cello. Thevigorous course of the movement is interrupted by a derivative second theme,marked Adagio, eventually combined with the fugal subject, both to bepresented emphatically as the work nears its close.