Along comes the Mozart Trio K. 498 for Viola, Clarinet and Piano.
If you are the clarinetist, as most who read this will be, you are usually happy to receive the job, the assignment, the reasons being readily evident. Mostly, it is not a difficult part to play. It lies well within the reasonable tessatura of the clarinet, is a work full of lovely melody, and is not too difficult for any of the players.
The choices began to be made at the first rehearsal, these being, whose version of the 64th notes which appear throughout the first movement, will the others follow.
I remember once, when playing this piece with Les Malowiny, the late principal of the Montreal Symphony, concerning the work, he said, “well I always do it the way the clarinet player does it, meaning the clarinets method of executing the 64th notes. In many instances, the clarinet will start the Trio and proceed to play a simple turn on the 3rd beat of the measure. Certainly, this method will work every time, as long as the Viola and Piano follow suit, exactly. If so, depending upon the tempo chosen, it passes quite well if everyone follows suit and plays the 32nd notes as a turn on the 3rd beat of the measure.
The first problem occurs when one of the players decides to play it differently, faster or slower than a simple turn. This completely upsets the notation and the realization of the notation. And then right away, comes the answer to the first phrase. At the usual “in two” tempo, it becomes banal, ordinary, and a little too soon
mostly because at least one of the trio will be thinking of the piece in two beats to the bar, which it is not, at least according to the clarinetists version of playing the 64th notes as a turn on the third beat. Please take note: this is not what Mozart wrote
At this point there are two discrepancies: one the difference of opinion either instinctive or accidental of the 64th notes, and the arrival of the answering theme , coming too soon, almost childish in two beats.
Ok, so now the ensemble stops and discusses the execution of the group of 64th notes which appear throughout the first movement.
There is the usually discussion which always goes into expressivo mode, meaning opinions that go something like, “well, I just feel it better faster, or slower, or as part of the following beat or the preceding beat, usually demonstrating, which is never agreed upon.
I have heard things like, “well, let’s just play it in a relaxed manner, or flowing or some such flowerization of a verb, usually resulting in a three-way split decision.
The work, the first movement is not played exactly together. It never happens. Not only have I played this work dozens of times, but also listened to several recordings and they are all completely different, among each ensemble and within the performance itself.
This in itself is not terrible, but Mozart happens to have been very specific in his notation which is consistent throughout, They are 64th notes, nothing else.
When that decision is agreed upon, it never works, for the tempo is too fast, especially at two beats in each bar. The entrance of the answering phrase is almost trite.
It is not unusual to hear a performance performed with total inaccuracy, yet gotten through somehow. The question arises, “if it still sounds like Mozart, well, why not?”
This is simply not correct. What was not discussed is the exact tempo of the first movement. It does not work in a medium 2 beats to the bar. The melody is the same, but played a bit differently by each player.
It is not a question of how one groups the 64th notes but at what tempo the ensemble plays. The only correct tempo is to play the piece in 6 beats to the bar, and in a stately manner.
If you think of the beat taken at a mm 60, you will be correct,at least according to Mozart. If he wanted something else, at this point in his life he would have written it.
(At the end, when he was very sick, he was able to write only sketches of each of the movement of his Requiem. He was not able to finish the work, which was finished by a student, and not out of love, but so that Mozarts widow could collect the remainder of the fee.In that case, the Requiem is revered as Mozarts greatest work, though it was largely incomplete).
Let us go back to the Trio. The players have tentatively agreed to the tempo of an eighth note taken at 60. The first thing that happens is disagreement from at least one of the three players. “My God”! It’s too slow! It’s a slow movement!”
Yes, friends, it is.
You must resolve to give it at least one reading at 60 for the beat for the first movement. Each player has to take great care of execution of both the 64th notes, and all of the other values. . Think of how long one beat is at 60 per minute. Do you make it shorter? or did the ensemble not hold it fully? It’s what makes this movement work.
You will find it more difficult to exercise this discipline in the ensemble, perhaps too difficult. But ,it is not. Your technic will be cleaner, as will your awareness. Now, let us go on.
After the first movement with its stately pace, the second , which is a minuet and trio will be in contrast to the first. Contrast is why a second movement is written. You will now have a contrasting second movement instead of two movements of approximately the same tempo.
There is yet another point to be made in this second movement. The two themes of the trio of the movement are shared by the clarinet and the viola. The clarinet theme is legato and piano, just three notes. The viola answers in direct contrast, playing a forceful group of triplets. The two distinct themes are spoken of by Mozart in a letter to his father concerning the feminine nature of the clarinet. While the comments were made concerning the Mannheim Orchestra, clearly it was an idea incorporated into the trio of the second movement.
And in the last movement, this feature is turned around with the clarinet interrupting the little trio of the final movement with a line of gleeful triplets.
The only real problem in this movement is the passages of 16th notes, almost always rushed by the pianist. This is the transparency of Mozart to be experienced again and again in his works for the piano.
Finally, the reason that few play the first movement at a stately tempo is that it is quite difficult, to taper the phrases, to lengthen the ends of phrases properly and, to let the movement breathe. It’s simply much easier to just toss it off, and….that is the way it almost always sounds.
An acquaintance wrote to me the other day, stating that at a slow tempo the first movement is unforgettable. Perhaps he was being sarcastic, perhaps not. Try it at Mozarts tempo. If not, then why in the world did Mozart write out each and every group of 64th notes?