Inspired in the last decade of his life by hearing Richard Mühlfeld play in Meiningen, the Trio was composed by Brahms in 1891. The trio was premiered in Berlin that December. It is a piece that has the austere expressiveness of the ambiguity of lost love.
Mühlfeld, originally a violinist when he joined the Meiningen orchestra in 1873, was, incredibly over three years, a self-taught clarinettist, and became the principal clarinettist of the orchestra. Moreover, in the 1880s he also became the principal clarinettist of the Bayreuth Festival orchestra. For Mühlfeld Brahms also composed the clarinet quintet, Op. 115, and the two sonatas for clarinet and piano, Op. 120.
The trio is one of the half dozen finest pieces in the clarinet literature, along with Mozart’s quintet K. 581, concerto K. 622, and trio K. 498, and Brahms’s own quintet, Op. 115.
Brahms and Mühlfeld became close friends, and it was with Mühlfeld and a few other close friends that Brahms lunched a week before his death, in Vienna, of liver cancer, six years later.