The German composer Johannes Brahms would probably have nodded in approval if he could have heard Orson Welles intone “We will sell no wine before its time” in those old TV ads for Paul Masson. Brahms was a notorious perfectionist, an obsessive polisher, and a cautious taste-tester of any of his own musical fermentations.
So, if one notes that Brahms appeared at the piano on today’s date in 1895, accompanying clarinetist Richard Mühlfeld at a high-profile Viennese performance of his Clarinet Sonata No. 1, one can safely assume there had been a number of trial performances beforehand.
In the summer of 1894, during his annual holiday in the Austrian countryside, Brahms composed this sonata. The very first performances of the new Clarinet Sonata followed in the fall of 1894 for the Duke of Meiningen and his sister, with an additional test run in Frankfurt for Clara Schumann. After Clara gave the new work a thumbs up, Brahms apparently felt it was fit for public consumption: first on January 7, 1895 for members of Vienna’s Tonkünstler Society, and four days later for an even more “toney” audience attending the Rosé String Quartet Quartet’s chamber music series.
After all, as Brahms and Mühlfeld might have put it: “We play NO sonata before its time!”
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