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Because of his extraordinary legacy of concertos for piano, most of us might assume that Mozart participated in performances of this unusually scored work by playing the piano, but the viola part was the one the composer wrote for himself (completed in August of 1786, the work was published in 1788). Anton Stadler, the master clarinetist for whom Mozart would also compose his Clarinet Quintet, K. 581 (in 1789), and, in 1791, the Clarinet Concerto, K. 622, joined the composer and Mozart’s piano student, Franziska Jacquin.
The lyrical, liquid quality of the comparatively new wind instrument had charmed Mozart sufficiently that many of the works from that period now included clarinet parts. The viola was favored by the composer in many works, including the series of string quintets in which a second viola part augmented the standard string quartet.
There is an unconfirmed legend that Mozart composed this trio while visiting what we would term a bowling alley, but that dubious honor may be more properly ascribed to a set of duos for basset horns, K. 487. It must be admitted, however, that the nickname has made the trio stand out from its fellows.
There are other distinctive aspects to the music, including its leisurely opening tempo and absence of a sonata form repeat in the first movement. The following minuet is folksy and not so elegant as many such movements by Mozart. The final movement has a returning theme, but there are more variations than usual between the recurrences of the rondo, so it is labeled in the plural, Rondeaux.
Dennis Bade is the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Associate Director of Publications.