The Quintet for Clarinet and Strings in A-major, K.581 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is unquestionably a timeless musical masterpiece. Written in 1789, the quintet was groundbreaking for a number of reasons.
To my knowledge, this was the first composition written for clarinet and string quartet. Mozart set the bar very high, but the beautiful blend and unique timbre of this instrumental combination has inspired many composers since the 1789 premiere. This list features a number of notable 19th century composers including Giacomo Meyerbeer, Carl Maria Von Weber, Anton Reicha, and Johannes Brahms. In the 20th century, Max Reger, Paul Hindemith, Arthur Bliss, Jean Françaix, Gordon Jacob, and many others have composed for this genre. For a comprehensive list of repertoire for clarinet and string quartet please visit: Clarinet Quintets
Mozart was a member of the Freemasons, a secretive fraternal society dedicated to high moral and spiritual values. Here he met the clarinetist Anton Stadler, for whom Mozart would write two eternal works, the aforementioned quintet and the Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra in A-major, K.622. These were mature works in Mozart's immense compositional output, with the concerto being written in the last months of his life in 1791. It is interesting to note the high personal qualities associated with Freemasonry, as history has left some interesting questions as to the character of Anton Stadler.
It is apparent that Stadler possessed an A clarinet that had an extended range at the bottom of the instrument. Typically, even today, the normal A clarinet (as well as its slightly higher counterpart in B-flat) can reach a written low E (concert C-sharp). Stadler's instrument reputedly extended to written low C (concert A).
So, there is much historical significance attached the Mozart quintet. Putting this aside, one must simply listen to this piece only once to be enraptured by this magnificent music written by arguably the greatest musical mind who ever lived.
There are literally dozens of available recordings of the quintet. You cannot really go wrong by listening to any of them, as this music is held in such high esteem by performers that it is always played with beauty and reverence.
This being said, here is a list of a few of my favorite clarinetists who have recorded the quintet (listed in no particular order) to help you get hooked on this music for the ages. I'm certain a brief search on iTunes or YouTube will turn up some of these great performers playing the quintet with wonderful string quartets.
For a comprehensive list of recordings of the quintet: Clarinet Quintet Recordings
Mitchell Estrin is a Vandoren Education and Product Consultant