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The clarinet was born just too late to inherit the wealth of baroque repertoire enjoyed by its elder siblings in the woodwind family. Invented in the early 1700s it was only later in the century, and thanks above all to Mozart’s imaginative insight, that its full potential came to be realized.
Enthusiasts can always be found for the music of lesser-known composers, but their advocacy tends to be ignored, or dismissed as mere eccentricity, by a music-loving public hungry predominantly for acknowledged masterpieces. There is, however, much to be lost in taking the cable car directly to the highest summits without ever experiencing the attractions and rewards of the path ascending through the lower slopes. Forgotten composers may often be lesser composers but not necessarily negligible ones. There is much unknown music written bearing more than a spark of originality and waiting to be brought to life in performance.
Max Bruch (1838–1920) was born in Cologne and studied composition with Hiller and Reinecke, later becoming conductor of the orchestra in Berlin in addition to that of the Liverpool Philharmonic Society (1880–1883). He then became director of the Breslau Orchestral Society before being appointed Professor of Composition at the Berlin Hochschule in 1892, a position he held until 1910. His output covered operas, three symphonies, three violin concertos (the first, in G minor, is his best known composition) and other works for this instrument plus a wide range of choral music.
The Concerto for clarinet, viola and orchestra, Op 88, fails to get mentioned in The New Grove and considerable mystery surrounds its composition. It is important to point out that it should not be confused with the Double Piano Concerto, Op 88a: there is no similarity. The work for clarinet and viola was written in 1911, the first performance occurring at Wilhelmshaven in Northern Germany in 1912 with the manuscript score and parts being used. It was first published by Eichmann the following year.
Bruch writes the opening movement, Andante con moto, in common time, setting the mood in a warm, lyrical late-Romantic manner. The solo viola opens boldly at the start immediately followed by the clarinet giving an autumnal melancholic glow to the solo instruments which later weave their ways both independently and corporately in turn. The accompaniment is deftly made so that the quieter tones of the viola are not obscured in any way. At bar 58 there is a change of key at which point the cellos play pizzicato. Then at bar 90 the clarinet part moves into semiquavers only to be followed by the solo viola, but by bar 115 the quieter mood has returned. The second movement, an Allegro moderato in 3/4 time, is again lyrical in style, the solo instruments almost singing a long duet together with the orchestra acting as the accompanying ensemble. For example, at bar 78 the strings play pizzicato, suggesting either a guitar or harp. The finale, an Allegro molto in 2/4, opens with a fanfare from trumpets and timpani but soon employs the full orchestra in a lengthy tutti. The clarinet first enters at bar 49 but now the two solo instruments have considerable interplay in their more animated writing, here more demanding technically than in the first two movements. This swift but charming finale completes a work through which pervades a warm nostalgic glow of the late nineteenth century.
Felix Mendelssohn (1809–1847) sadly burnt himself out with excessive overwork. He had been a child prodigy as a pianist from the age of nine, wrote the magical overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream at seventeen, reintroduced Bach’s St Matthew Passion in 1829 after a lapse of nearly sixty years, gave the first English performance of Beethoven’s ‘Emperor’ Concerto, became conductor of the famous Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra in 1835, and made ten visits to Britain including one for the premiere of Elijah. In addition he also composed a vast amount of music in virtually every field.
In July 1832 Mendelssohn returned to Berlin from London where in the winter months he was in the full swing of things, not only composing but also performing. In concerts during November 1832 and January 1833 he gave his Walpurgisnacht, his ‘Reformation’ Symphony, the overtures A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Meeresstille and Hebrides, and his G minor Piano Concerto, in addition to performing Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas, Opp 27 and 53, plus the Fourth Piano Concerto and Bach’s in D minor—works all little known at the time. Furthermore, he was composing his ‘Italian’ Symphony, first played in March 1833. The two Concertstücke for clarinet, basset horn and orchestra, Opp 113 and 114, also date from this period.
It is known that the clarinet virtuosi, the Baermann father (Heinrich) and son (Carl) passed through Berlin on their way to concert engagements in Russia, asking Mendelssohn for a new work to perform. He gave them Op 113 and since this enjoyed considerable success the composer was requested to supply another piece; Op 114 was despatched to Königsberg on 9 January 1833.
There is, however, some mystery surrounding these works. Two autograph versions of Op 113 exist, one with piano (held in the Library of Congress, Washington DC), the other with orchestra (in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, and discovered there by Georgina Dobrée). The first, dated 30 December 1832, is a working draft containing many deletions, and it is known to have been played on 1 January 1833 with the initial public performance four days later. The orchestral version, dated 6 January, is also a working draft basically similar in content but with some differences in the cadenzas to the solo parts. It is suggested that as the orchestral score was numbered, publication was possibly envisaged, but as far as is known this never actually occurred. This version of the score is in the composer’s own hand.
A larger mystery surrounds the orchestral version of Op 114. There is no known version by Mendelssohn and the orchestral score was possibly made by Carl Baermann—a copy of this exists in the Bavarian State Library in Munich. The scoring of Op 113 is for pairs of flutes, oboes, bassoons, horns and trumpets, with strings and timpani, that of Op 114 being similar except for the omission of trumpets and timpani.
The Concertstück Op 113 was originally called ‘The Battle of Prague’, for Mendelssohn used as his principal theme (bars 12-30) the melody of that name by František Koczwara (c1750–1791) which was popular in the early years of the nineteenth century. Mendelssohn could well have heard the tune while on one of his visits to Britain. However, he later deleted the name in favour of ‘Concertstück’. The piece opens with an orchestral fanfare, Allegro di molto, followed immediately by the clarinet playing an initial flourish, only for the basset horn to do much the same. At bar 54 the tempo changes to an Andante in 9/8 with the soloists in duet, accompanied by the strings in a rippling quaver rhythm. The opening tempo returns at bar 111 but now in 6/8 to make a brilliant finale—technically difficult, especially for the basset horn in its lowest register where extreme facility is required.
Opus 114 has an exuberant light-hearted opening full of carefree banter, again technically most demanding in matter of ensemble. This is followed by a quieter and more sombre mood with horns and strings which leads to the basset horn in arpeggio writing contrasting with the flowing clarinet melody, the instruments moving together as a pair or in imitation of one another. The finale is a gay canter, full of obvious enjoyment in which the technical resources of the solo instruments are exploited to the limit, concluding with a brilliant duet cadenza.
Bernhard (Berndt) Henrik Crusell was born on 15 October 1775 in Uusikaupunki, Finland, moving close to Helsinki at the age of eight. In 1788 he became a volunteer in the military band at the island fortress of Sveaborg, but three years later went to Stockholm in Sweden to study music. From 1793 until 1833 when he retired, Crusell played in the Royal Opera Orchestra in Stockholm. This experience proved valuable for his own composing. In order to improve his technique Crusell visited Berlin in 1801 to study with Franz Tausch and two years later went to Paris, working with Henri-Montan Berton and François Gossec. On returning to Stockholm he premiered many concertos in addition to making Swedish translations of libretti to operas by Mozart, Beethoven and Rossini. He died in 1838 and is buried in Solna.
Crusell’s career as a clarinet virtuoso would seem to have finished in 1820 and even then it was only in Sweden that he enjoyed any reputation. Nevertheless, he must have been a considerable performer as can be witnessed by his compositions for the instrument—three concertos (Opp 1, 5 and 11), three quartets (Opp 2, 4, and 7), three duos (Op 6), a Concertante which includes horn and bassoon (Op 3), and the work in this set, Introduction and Variations on a Swedish air, Op 12.
The work in its initial form, when it was called Variation on the song ‘Good Lad’, was first heard in Stockholm in 1804 played by the composer. Unfortunately this version later became lost except for some orchestral sections. The score in its revised format, published by Peters of Leipzig in 1829, appeared in two versions, one with piano, the other with orchestra. The work was subsequently published by Costallat in Paris. The version employed in this recording uses the French edition (with piano accompaniment, correcting certain misprints) and the Peters orchestral parts of 1829. The original Swedish air is taken from Olof Ahlström’s Good Lad, your glass do empty which was in vogue during the early years of the last century. The work is a splendid virtuoso piece crammed full of technical demands for the soloist. The scoring is for pairs of flutes, oboes, bassoons, horns and trumpets, with strings and timpani.
Louis Spohr (1784–1859) wrote his opera Alruna at the age of twenty-four. His autobiography, published posthumously in 1861 (and subsequently in an English translation), reveals an ability for ruthless self-criticism:
My music at the rehearsal in Weimar had not satisfied me, greatly as it had pleased there and I was again tortured with the thought that I had no talent for dramatic music … at length the thought of seeing it represented and thus made public was so distasteful to me that I withdrew the parts and score.
A year later (sandwiched between the first and second clarinet concertos) Spohr found a place for at least one small part of the music, using it in his Variations in B flat for clarinet and orchestra on a theme from Alruna. The Variations remained unpublished until around 1888, nearly thirty years after Spohr’s death. Clarinettists have an uncanny gift of drawing out the best in composers—there was Stadler (who inspired Mozart), Baermann (Weber) and Mühlfeld (Brahms). Spohr, too, fell under the spell of a fine clarinettist, as he himself admits in a further passage from the autobiography:
Herr Hermstedt … appeared as Clarinet player, and attracted much attention by his admirable performance. He had come to Gotha to request me to write a Clarinet-concerto for him … to this proposal I gladly assented, as from the immense execution together with the brilliancy of tone, and purity of intonation possessed by Hermstedt, I felt at full liberty to give the reins to my fancy. After, that [sic] with Hermstedt’s assistance I had made myself somewhat acquainted with the technics of the instrument, I went zealously to work, and completed it in a few weeks.
Despite the expert tuition the technical difficulties of Spohr’s First Clarinet Concerto were such that Hermstedt was obliged to add seven new keys to his instrument.
The Alruna Variations are taken from a soprano-bass duet in Act II. The introduction, an Adagio in the minor whose solemnity is offset by decorative writing for the solo clarinet, is followed by the theme itself, disarmingly innocent but energized by dotted rhythms. After the first variation which is dominated by chromatic triplet figuration, the orchestral wind instruments come into prominence—all, that is, except the second bassoon which remains obstinately silent, leaving the soloist to take responsibility alternately for the melody and bass line, an echo, perhaps, of the original soprano–bass idea. There follows a freely composed section in the manner of a development, leading finally to a variation in which the clarinet sets to work to swamp the theme with some serious virtuosity.
The remaining virtuoso clarinet music in this set, though long neglected, was written by musicians much favoured in their own day. Julius Rietz (1812–1877) was a distinguished conductor. Starting as Mendelssohn’s assistant at the Düsseldorf Opera he later became musical director before moving to Leipzig, where he directed both the Opera and the Gewandhaus Orchestra. Mendelssohn described his conducting as ‘outstandingly good, diligent, precise and very skilful’. He was also a noted cellist but is especially remembered today for his work as a scholar and editor.
His own compositions include both vocal and instrumental works. The Clarinet Concerto, Op 29, is in three linked movements, paralleling the form of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto. Another feature common to both works is the entry of the soloist after a few introductory bars—a gesture which denies the orchestra the opportunity for its own exposition. Though no one would claim that Rietz is the equal of Mendelssohn his musical language is serious, and generously endowed with melody and harmonic intensity. The slow movement attains a level of serenity which lifts the Concerto well above the merely workmanlike. The infectious rhythms of the last movement lead ultimately to an ebullient coda with orchestra and soloist joining together in a dash to the finishing post and the prize of an ending in the major.
The earliest of the composers represented here is Étienne Solère (1753–1817). Starting out at the age of fourteen as a bandsman he progressed to the position of Professor of Clarinet at the newly opened Paris Conservatoire (1795). Subsequently he took the first clarinet chair in Napoleon’s orchestra, ending his days more humbly as second clarinet in the orchestra of the Paris Opera. During the 1780s he made a brilliant reputation through his appearances at the prestigious Paris concert series, the Concert Spirituel.
His Sinfonie Concertante in F for two clarinets is the first of two published by Imbault, Paris, in 1790 (just one year before the Mozart Clarinet Concerto was written). The title page announces that it was performed at a Concert Spirituel with Solère and Wachter as soloists. It is classically scored with strings, two oboes and two horns. The solo parts are written for the light-toned C clarinet. As in most double concertos there is repetition of material to encourage a competitive spirit between the soloists. The first clarinet is early off the starting block, making a brief surprise entry during the opening tutti, but is brought to book by an interrupted cadence. Subsequently all is fairness and good sport, with contrapuntal volleying between the soloists leading to more co-operative passages in thirds. The second movement is a graceful Rondeau whose main theme is introduced jointly by the soloists. It is just rescued from predictability by unexpected phrase extensions and timely modulations. One has to admire the musicians of the eighteenth century who mastered, in a less specialist age, both performance and compositional skills.
Gustaf Adolf Heinze (1820–1904) was born in Leipzig but spent most of his long life in Holland, conducting and composing vocal music. In January 1967 a remarkable article appeared in the Dutch periodical Mens en Melodie, entitled ‘De Memoires van G A Heinze’—remarkable because the author, Mies Albarda-Goedhart, wrote from personal acquaintance of a man who had played clarinet in the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra under Mendelssohn at the age of only fifteen, and had given concerts with the young Clara Wieck, later to become Schumann’s wife. Clearly Heinze had been a child prodigy. He was taught by his father, also a clarinettist in the Gewandhaus. After four years spent playing in the orchestra he left, with Mendelssohn’s blessing, to study composition.
Mendelssohnian influence is not hard to detect in this Konzertstück, alongside snatches of Weber and Schubert. The work is skilfully scored for large orchestra, including trombones. It opens in the minor in serious, even ominous, mood. The second subject brings relief with a switch to the major and the opportunity for lyricism. Heinze shows little enthusiasm for developing his material, preferring instead to enrich the work with new tunes before bringing in the recapitulation. The soloist is then allowed to interrupt proceedings with an extended cadenza (there had been several earlier attempts to do so) and the work ends triumphantly.
Hyperion Records Ltd © 1989