Worthington, Emily (2015) (Re-)Constructing Richard Mühlfeld? Rubato and Rhythmic Freedom in Brahms’s Clarinet Sonata �Op. 120 No. 2 Mvt. 1. [Lecture-recital]. In: Performing Brahms in the 21st Century, 30 June to 2 July 2015, School of Music, University of Leeds. (Unpublished)

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There are no known recordings of Brahms’s clarinettist Richard Mühlfeld. Reports of his performance style, though plentiful, are vague and often conflicting, with details of his use of rubato, phrasing and ensemble flexibility remaining particularly unclear. This lacuna should present a tantalising creative space to be explored: yet the stylistic approach taken by most modern and HIP performers to Brahms’s clarinet works remains generally conservative, particularly in the case of Sonata Op. 120/2, commonly approached as the ‘Classical’ counterpart to the more impassioned Op. 120/1. This may in part be due to the absence of a significant body of research into late-romantic wind playing to provide authority or permission, if such is necessary, for a significant deviation from the prevailing approach.

Drawing on new research into early German recordings of wind chamber music, including the extensive discography of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Wind Quintet 1924–30, this lecture-recital reveals the extent to which wind players trained in the late 19th century made use of a wide range of temporal expressive devices, many familiar from studies of piano and string playing. It is contended that, though the playing of Mühlfeld himself may remain a mystery, the stylistic world into which Brahms’s clarinet works were born does not, opening the possibility of a far broader range of interpretative approaches. The process of applying these approaches to Op. 120/2:I both prompts a reconsideration of the character of the music, and also strategies for creating a ‘safe’ collaborative working space.

Reconstructing Muhlfeld Leeds.pdf

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