Mozart’s “Kegelstatt” Trio, K. 498: Music Conceived at the Bowling Alley?

In a memorable scene from the 1984 film, Amadeus, the fictionalized Mozart composes at a billiards table.

Although Mozart’s phrases unfold with an uncanny crystalline ease, the composer’s creative process probably was not as casual and effortless as the scene suggests. Perhaps in an attempt to further the legend, Mozart’s widow, Constanze, destroyed all but ten percent of her husband’s sketches, following his death. Regardless, Mozart loved to play billiards, as well as skittles, an early form of bowling.

It is the latter game which is referenced in Mozart’s “Kegelstatt” Trio in E-flat Major, K. 498. In German, “Kegelstatt” translates loosely as “bowling alley.” In fact, the subtitle is likely erroneous. A week and a half before composing the Trio, during the summer of 1786, Mozart completed the 12 Duos for Two Horns, K. 487, which bears the inscription, “while playing skittles” on the autograph manuscript. The moniker, “Kegelstatt,” first appeared years later in an 1862 publication of the Trio, and the name stuck.

Scored for clarinet, viola, and piano, the “Kegelstatt” Trio was conceived as music to be played at home among friends. The musicologist, Alfred Einstein, called it “a work of intimate friendship and love” which “does not merely satisfy the listener, but leaves him enchanted!” Having evolved in the early 1700s from the chalumeau, the modern clarinet was still a relatively new instrument during Mozart’s lifetime. The Trio was written for Anton Stadler, the outstanding clarinetist who inspired Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet, K. 581 (in 1789), as well as the Clarinet Concerto, K. 622 (in 1791), and the composer’s piano student, Franziska Jacquin. Mozart, himself, joined on the viola, an instrument he favored when playing chamber music.

The “Kegelstatt” Trio opens the door to a soulful and spirited musical conversation. The three instruments take on distinct personas, akin to characters from a Mozart opera. Throughout the piece, the clarinet and viola, both mellow and sonorous, seem to share a special kinship. Mozart was the first composer to bring together this combination of instruments. (Edward Klorman)

Rather than the expected Allegro, the first movement is a sunny, leisurely Andante, set in 6/8 time. It begins with a charming dialogue between the viola and piano which draws us in with teasing pauses. The ornamental turn of a grupetto (a little group of notes) develops throughout the movement, and becomes its defining motivic feature.

The second movement is a minuet, set in the key of B-flat major. A haunting chromatic four-note motif pervades the trio section. It is passed between the voices in a dizzying contrapuntal conversation, amid recurring triplets in the viola.

The final movement (Allegretto) is a seven-part rondeaux which, in the words of Einstein, “sings from beginning to end.” The sparkling coda section surges towards the final cadence with a joyful and exuberant conversation akin to an operatic finale.

This performance, from the 2011 International Chamber Music Festival Utrecht, features clarinetist Martin Fröst, violist Maxim Rysanov, and pianist Roland Pöntinen:


  • Mozart: Trio in E-flat Major, “Kegelstatt,” K. 498, Martin Fröst, Antoine Tamestit, Leif Ove Andsnes Amazon

Featured Image: “Skittle Players Outside an Inn” (1663), Jan Steen

About Timothy Judd

A native of Upstate New York, Timothy Judd has been a member of the Richmond Symphony violin section since 2001. He is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music where he earned the degrees Bachelor of Music and Master of Music, studying with world renowned Ukrainian-American violinist Oleh Krysa.

The son of public school music educators, Timothy Judd began violin lessons at the age of four through Eastman’s Community Education Division. He was a student of Anastasia Jempelis, one of the earliest champions of the Suzuki method in the United States.

A passionate teacher, Mr. Judd has maintained a private violin studio in the Richmond area since 2002 and has been active coaching chamber music and numerous youth orchestra sectionals.

In his free time, Timothy Judd enjoys working out with Richmond’s popular SEAL Team Physical Training program.

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