rediscover Mozart’s “Clarinet Concerto”

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mozartit is Clarinet Concerto in A major, K 622, is widely regarded as the greatest clarinet concerto and is among the best written for a solo instrument. Mozart composed his Concerto for clarinet for the clarinetist Anton Stadler, who was Vienna’s most gifted clarinetist, and he performed the work at the premiere on October 16, 1791. It was the first clarinet concerto written by a major composer – except that he n wasn’t strictly composed for the clarinet at all. Mozart originally composed the Basset Clarinet Concerto. Scroll down to discover Mozart’s story Concerto for clarinet, which remains today the jewel in the crown of any clarinetist.

Listen to our recommended Mozart recording Concerto for clarinetperformed by Jack Brymer and the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Colin Davis, the Apple Music and Spotify.

The basics

by Mozart Concerto for clarinetwidely regarded as the greatest clarinet concerto and his last instrumental work, was completed in October 1791, less than two months before the composer died at just 35 years old.

Mozart composed his Concerto for clarinet for Anton Stadler, who performed the work at the premiere in Prague on October 16, 1791. Stadler, who played clarinet and basset horn, had been a close friend of Mozart since the early 1780s: the composer had a variety of nicknames for him: Stodla, Miracle Of Bohemia, and Nàtschibinitschibi (try pronouncing that after a few Glühweins).

Mozart wrote to Stadler: “Never would I have thought that a clarinet could be able to imitate the human voice as deceptively as it is imitated by you. Truly, your instrument sounds so sweet and beautiful that no one with a heart could resist it.

In the late 1800s, the clarinet was still a relatively young orchestral instrument. In 1778, Mozart wrote to his father in Mannheim lamenting: “Oh, if only we had clarinets too! Unlike the flute, which he claimed to hate, Mozart fell in love with the clarinet. All his great works for instrument – the Concerto for clarinetthe Clarinet Quintetthe Kegelstatt (bowling alley) Trio, and the obligated parties in two airs of Tito’s Mercy – were composed for Stadler. The Concerto for clarinet remains today the jewel in the crown of any clarinetist.

Mozart’s original manuscript Concerto for clarinet was lost. Stadler claimed to have left it in a coat rack that was stolen while he was in Germany. However, a letter from Mozart’s widow to publisher Johann André suggested that Stadler had pawned it.

Why the name?

Because it’s Mozart’s only clarinet concerto… except it wasn’t strictly written for the clarinet at all. Mozart originally composed it for the basset clarinet.

The clarinet and basset horn (a low-pitched member of the clarinet family) descend from a single-reed instrument called the chalumeau. Theodor Lotz, one of the leading clarinet makers in Vienna, made a special clarinet for Stadler whose range extended up to a written C (sounding A), which was later called the basset clarinet. It was longer than the standard A or B flat clarinet, with a chocolate lower range. Stadler claimed the invention of the basset clarinet for himself – as you may have gathered, he was not the most reliable individual.

We now know that Mozart Concerto for clarinet was written for a basset clarinet in A (whose notes sound a minor third lower than the writing). The score for his concerto was not published until 1803, when it was rearranged for clarinet in A.

Where have I heard it before?

Some Mozarts Concerto for clarinet was featured in the score of the 2010 film The King’s Speech, although oddly only the orchestral sections. And the second movement “Adagio” figured prominently in Outside of Africa (played by Jack Brymer).

Can I play it?

Many Mozarts sound easy enough on paper, but are devilishly difficult to play well. The serene ‘Adagio’ is the easiest move for amateur players to tackle (an ABRSM Grade 6 repertoire piece). It is almost lyrical in its treatment of the clarinet and is very handsome, with some carefully ornamented turns. There is also a brief opportunity for a cadence.

The finale is a happy, carefree “Rondo”…carefree unless you have to play it, that is. Busy passages that should appear light are never easy.

Registration recommended

To play with old-school charm, Jack Brymer’s recording with the London Symphony Orchestra (in which he was principal clarinet) is hard to beat. The temperature described Jack Brymer as “the leading clarinetist of his generation, perhaps of the century”.

Our recommended Mozart recording Concerto for clarinet, performed by Jack Brymer and the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Colin Davis, can be purchased here.

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