Program 106
"Two Unknown Romantic Gems"

Play List

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 following]

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, Fred Flaxman.

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 and piano.

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 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,

This program is dedicated to Al and Anne Bodin.

Compact Discoveries is distributed via the Public Radio Exchange.

: 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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