"Two Unknown Romantic Gems"
1. Walter Rabl: Quartet
in E-flat Major for Clarinet, Violin, Cello, and Piano, Op. 1,
performed by the Orion Ensemble [Cedille CDR 90000 088]
2. Josef Labor: Quintet in D Major for Clarinet, Violin, Viola, Cello,
and Piano, Op. 11, performed by the Orion Ensemble [Cedille CDR 90000 088]
MUSIC: clip from the beginning of the first movement of
Labor’s Quintet in D Major [under the
The music in the background sounds very much as though it were
written by Johannes Brahms, and is every bit as beautiful as a piece by that
famous composer. But this was not written by Brahms. It wasn’t even the creation
of a world famous composer. It is the opening of the Quintet in D Major for
Clarinet, Violin, Viola, Cello and Piano, Op. 11 by... well, stay tuned and
you’ll find out during this hour of Compact Discoveries. I’m your guide,
MUSIC: fades out
This quintet is bound to be a true compact discovery for you, unless you
already have heard the Cedille world premiere compact disc recording of the
work. That CD also contains the world premiere recording of Walter Rabl’s
Quartet in E-flat major for Clarinet, Violin, Cello, and Piano, Opus 1,
another true compact discovery and one with which we’ll begin this hour. The two
pieces on this disc could well be considered the finest examples of Brahmsian
clarinet chamber music not written by Brahms.
Why, you might ask, would any two works of music as beautiful as these, be
forgotten for so long? In the case of Walter Rabl, his short career as a
composer may have played a part. Rabl gave up composing at age 30, turning his
attention toward conducting and vocal coaching. As for the composer whose
quintet we’ll sample later in this hour, his blindness may have limited his
ability to disseminate and promote his works.
As the program notes for this CD by Bonnie H. Campbell suggest, whatever
individual factors may have been at play, both composers were eclipsed by
Brahms, the standard bearer for “conservative” or “classical” romanticism. So,
since they lacked Brahms’s reputation, they may have been victims of the rise of
modernism, causing their beautiful work to be relegated to the back shelf as
“last year’s fashion.” After all, the Rabl work was written in 1896 and the
other piece was composed in 1900.
I could accept that explanation in its entirety if it weren’t for the music
of Sergei Rachmaninoff, who composed very conservative, romantic pieces long
after 1900. Rachmaninoff’s piano works were not at all forgotten or neglected,
and they became very popular with the concert-going public, if not the
professional music critics. But perhaps Rachmaninoff was the exception that
proves the rule.
Walter Rabl was born in Vienna, Austria, in 1873. He became an accomplished
pianist while still a child, and moved to Salzburg, where he studied music
theory and composition, graduating with honors. He then returned to Vienna to
further his musical studies.
Later on he enrolled in the doctoral program at the German University in
Prague. It was while he was a doctoral candidate that Rabl captured the Vienna
Musicians’ Society’s first prize for the quartet you are about to hear.
The honorary president of the society was Johannes Brahms, and he played an
active role in this competition, donating prize money and serving as head of the
committee of judges.
When it came to the examination of anonymous manuscripts that had been
submitted, Brahms showed astonishing accuracy, in guessing from the overall
impression and technical details, who the author was, or at least his school or
teacher. But he failed to do this in the case of Walter Rabl, who he had never
heard of before.
Brahms was so impressed by the Rabl piece that he recommended it to his own
publisher, and it became Rabl’s first published piece, his opus one.
In this Cedille recording the work is performed by the Orion Ensemble.
MUSIC: Walter Rabl’s Quartet in E-flat Major
Walter Rabl’s Quartet in E-flat Major for Clarinet, Violin,
Cello, and Piano, Opus 1, performed by the Orion Ensemble on a Cedille
compact disc. The work dates from 1896 and, in my opinion, is a true compact
discovery. I hope you agree.
You are listening to Compact Discoveries. I’m your guide, Fred Flaxman
[optional one minute break not included in total timing]
The Cedille CD which I am devoting this hour to has a second true compact
discovery on it by another virtually unknown composer: Josef Labor. Labor was
born in 1842 in the Bohemian town of Horowitz. He was left completely blind by
smallpox at the age of three and was then sent to Vienna to attend the Institute
for the Blind. Because he showed precocious musical talent, he was enrolled in
the Conservatory of the Society of Music Lovers, where he studied composition
After finishing his formal education, he concertized as a pianist throughout
France, England, Russia and Scandinavia. He struck up an enduring friendship
with King Georg V of Hannover, who was also blind. The king had lost one eye due
to a childhood illness and the other in a riding accident. Georg named Labor the
Royal Chamber Pianist in 1865. The following year the two men settled in Vienna,
where Labor began organ lessons and became a well-respected teacher while
continuing to compose and perform. In 1904 Labor received the title of Royal and
Imperial Court Organist. Today he is best known to organists because of his many
works for their instrument.
Here, then, is the all-female, Chicago-based Orion Ensemble once again, this
time with movements from Josef Labor’s Quintet in D Major for Clarinet,
Violin, Viola, Cello and Piano, Op. 11.
MUSIC: Labor: Quintet in D Major
Movements from Josef Labors’ Quintet in D Major for Clarinet, Violin, Viola,
Cello and Piano, Op. 11, performed by the Orion Ensemble on a Cedille
compact disc called “Twilight of the Romantics.”
MUSIC: Labor: Quintet in D, opening of second movement
This is Fred Flaxman, thanking the Orion Ensemble and Cedille
Records, trademark of the Chicago Classical Recording Foundation, for bringing
this work and the quartet by Walter Rabl to much-deserved public attention with
this world-premiere recording. I would also like to thank Bonnie Campbell for
the excellent program notes which accompany this CD and which I used as the
basis of my remarks.
I hope you enjoyed these selections and that you’ll let me hear from you.
You can reach me in care of the Compact Discoveries website at
www.compactdiscoveries.com. You can also use the website to view complete
scripts for these programs, including information on every CD used. And you can
stream this and other Compact Discoveries programs on demand at the
Public Radio Exchange website, www.prx.org.
This program is dedicated to Al and Anne Bodin.
Compact Discoveries is distributed via the Public Radio Exchange.
MUSIC: ends at 58:30
ANNOUNCER: Compact Discoveries is made possible in part by
Story Books, publishers of The Timeless Tales of Reginald Bretnor,
selected and edited by Fred Flaxman. Samples and ordering available at bretnor
dot com, b-r-e-t-n-o-r dot com. [0:15]
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