WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART (1756-1791)
Clarinet Concerto, K. 622, A Major (1791), 23 minutes
The Clarinet Concerto was first performed on October 16, 1791 in Prague by with soloist Anton Stadler.
The work is scored for 2 flutes, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, strings, and solo clarinet.
Much focus is given to the works composed in the last year of life. Questions of mortality have a way of seeping into the musical fabric of the final works of many composer to come after Mozart, including Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony, Mahler’s Ninth Symphony and most recently with the Sixth Symphony of American composer Christopher Rouse.
In his final 35th year of life, 1791 was prolific and saw the completion of the opera La Clemenza di Tito and of course the unfinished Requiem, but the last completed work before death was the Clarinet Concerto in A major. Today, the orchestral instrumental families that include a compliment of woodwinds, brass, percussion and strings is standard, but all of these instruments were once brand new and added to the orchestra over time, and in 1790, the clarinet was still the new-kid on the block.
In 1784, Mozart befriended the clarinetist Anton Stadler and from this friendship came the Clarinet Quintet and later the Concerto. Stadler was somewhat of a persona non-grata to the composer’s family and had a reputation of borrowing large sums from a financially strapped Mozart. Yet, Stadler’s personality and musicianship was a muse the composer embraced and admired.
Mozart composed the Concerto for Stadler’s basset clarinet. Stadler’s affinity for the bass register would lead him to design a slightly longer clarinet that extended the lower range by two pitches. Regrettably, the original score for basset clarinet was posthumously lost, and the score as heard today is that of the edited edition by Mozart’s publisher for clarinet without the bass extensions. Yet, one will still be struck with Mozart’s sensitivity to showcasing the human vocal qualities of the clarinet in lyricism and virtuosity, especially in the lower register.
The Concerto is scored for an intimate blend of flutes, bassoons, horns and strings, a delicate mix that caresses the solo timbres in a warm soundscape. After an orchestral exposition, the clarinet begins with the opening violin theme and gradually peppers in glimpses of the tasteful virtuosity to come. Lyricism and the exploration of the clarinet’s mellow bright highs and rich dark bass registers take center stage, deliciously jumping and weaving above and below the orchestral accompaniment.
Where the first movement bathed in lyrical virtuosity, the second treads in melancholic soulfulness. Entering immediately with murmuring strings, the solo melody presents three phrases, a rise and fall in the first, a more urgent ascent and fall in the second, and an answer in the third. Much of the melodic material and scalar ornamental passages aim towards an ascending path, always looking up, always elevating. If allegory has any place in the last works of Mozart, there are memories, uncertainties and hopes in the melodies of this Adagio that meditate on mortality and what comes next.
If a question is posed in the second, the third movement answers with unabashed liveliness, there is life. A lively rondo in 6/8 time, it is a dance, a jig, or a delightful roll in sonorous fields. The finale brims with solo gymnastics prancing up and down with running 16th notes. Violins are inspired to partake, giving chase with their own series of runnings scales. There is contentment to be had in this music, and it the face of the questions posed by mortality, a very Mozartian response of frivolity answers through the voice of the clarinet. © MTF
*Digitally published for the Hawaiʻi Symphony Sheraton Starlight Series on May 14-16, 2021.