Before string quartets and wind ensembles flourished in the Classical era, aristocratic households turned to consorts of viols (an early version of string instruments) to enliven their social gatherings. Consorts, or chamber music ensembles, embodied the spirit of musical democracy: No one voice dominated the texture of shared musical utterance. In eighteenth-century Vienna, patrons enjoyed a regular supply of newly minted quartets and wind ensembles for their nocturnal gatherings in a style that continued the democratic spirit of consorts and came to be known as the music of friends. Mozart penned many works in this style, calling upon some of the city’s prominent virtuosi as partners. In collaboration with the standout clarinetist Anton Stadler, team Mozart/Stadler urged instrument makers to upgrade the clarinet’s technical features and give access to its haunting lowest register, the chalumeau. Their efforts prepared the clarinet for its first prominence in the music of friends.
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