Brahms had already announced his "retirement" from composition when in the spring of 1894 he played chamber music with the cellist Robert Hausmann and the clarinettist Richard Mühlfeld. This encounter apparently renewed his enthusiasm for Mühlfeld's much admired playing and inspired him to write two clarinet sonatas in the summer of the same year. Brahms conceived an alternate version of the works for viola from the beginning and already before the publication of these two versions he intended to do another one for violin, a version which was to require changes and was to result in an independent edition. While the clarinet and viola versions have developed a rich performance tradition, the violin version is almost unknown. Yet for the violin version the composer revised the original clarinet part much more extensively than he did for the viola version and also rewrote the piano part to achieve a thoroughly convincing violin and piano idiom.
An important part of this edition is the extensive preface. It informs about the sonatas' origins, their compositional process, pre-publication performances, their publication history as well as early reception. The Performance Practice Commentary starts from the premise that a few decades after Brahms' death, a widening gulf developed between the composer's expectations and the performance practices of the early 20th century. On the basis of manifold sources which include memoirs by pupils and chamber music partners, treatises and essays, early instructive editions and historical recordings, the editors deal with key issues in understanding Brahms' notation.
Clarinet Sonata in F Minor (Version for Violin), Op. 120, No. 1
Clarinet Sonata in E-flat Major (Version for Violin), Op. 120, No. 2