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Concerto movement for basset clarinet in D major
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The autograph of Süssmayr’s Clarinet Concerto lies in The British Library, London. The solo part is written for an instrument in A extending down to bottom C, nowadays called the basset clarinet. It was developed by Anton Stadler in the late 1780s but survived for only a few years. Though Mozart wrote his Concerto and Quintet for this instrument, they were published in adaptations for the normal-compass clarinet. Mozart’s autographs have not survived, and the versions for the basset clarinet heard today are modern reconstructions. An authentic example of the instrument’s use by Mozart’s contemporary, Süssmayr, is therefore of especial historical interest.

To be exact, Süssmayr’s Concerto exists in two autographs, one an undated sketch and the other a draft, dated ‘Vienna … January 1792’. Both are incomplete, though Süssmayr obviously expected to finish the draft and fill in the date of completion within the month. They are to be found in a volume of manuscripts of Süssmayr’s works. The volume is noteworthy because it also contains a Mozart autograph – the final pages of the Rondo in A for piano and orchestra, K386 – miscatalogued under Süssmayr’s name until discovered by Alan Tyson in 1980. In his book Mozart, Studies of the Autograph Scores (p262) Tyson writes: ‘The contents of the volume, Add. MS32181, formed part of a large collection of manuscripts by various composers that had been purchased by the British Library (then the British Museum) on 9 February 1884 from the Leipzig antiquarian firm of List and Francke. These manuscripts, catalogued as Add. MS32169–32239, were said to have come from the library of Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778–1837) …’

On 6 September 1791 Mozart, Stadler and Süssmayr were in Prague for the premiere of La Clemenza di Tito. Stadler played the obbligato parts and Süssmayr, according to the Mozart biography by Georg Nikolaus Nissen, Constanze’s second husband, assisted the hard-pressed Mozart by writing the secco recitatives. There can be little doubt that Süssmayr began to compose his Concerto in Prague, for his earlier sketch was written, to quote Tyson again, ‘on Bohemian paper identical in watermark (though ruled with a slightly different 2-staff rastrum) to that used by Mozart in completing La Clemenza di Tito at Prague in September 1791 – probably Süssmayr’s Concerto was started at that time’ (ibid., p253).

Mozart’s Concerto was completed on his return to Vienna; in a letter to his wife of 7/8 October 1791 he reported that he had just orchestrated almost the whole of the Rondo. A few paragraphs later he writes: ‘Do urge Süssmayr to write something for Stadler, for he has begged me very earnestly to see to this.’ That is how it is translated in The Letters of Mozart and his Family (volume III, p1438), published in 1938 by Emily Anderson. But in the original letter the names have been crossed out, probably by Nissen, for reasons best known to himself. What remains visible reads ‘treibe den … dass er für … schreibt, denn er hat mich sehr darum gebeten’. From the context of the letter Emily Anderson’s interpretation is probably correct.

Despite the encouragement Süssmayr’s Concerto remained but an unfinished sketch. In the meantime Mozart’s own Concerto was given in Prague on 16 October 1791, with Stadler as soloist. A month after Mozart’s death Süssmayr took up his own Concerto again, but something interrupted him. Possibly it was the call from Constanze to complete the unfinished score of Mozart’s Requiem. In any case Stadler had by now embarked on a long tour which kept him away from Vienna until 1796. It would not be hard to imagine that Süssmayr’s enthusiasm faded and he simply lost interest in completing the work.

The musical material of the two autographs is almost sufficient, however, for the construction of a first movement. The earlier sketch extends well into the development section in the solo clarinet part. But the orchestration is essentially complete only as far as the second subject in the soloist’s exposition, at which point it becomes very fragmentary. The subsequent draft, however, is fully orchestrated for strings, two oboes and two horns, but it breaks off altogether at the beginning of the development. It contains alterations to the exposition, some of which are also found squeezed onto spare staves of the sketched version.

To complete the movement it was necessary first to fill out the orchestral part of the development section in accordance with Süssmayr’s sketched suggestions, and then to link it to a recapitulation constructed from Süssmayr’s exposition material – a far more modest challenge than his own completion of Mozart’s Requiem. If Süssmayr had continued with the later draft it might well have contained alterations to the development section, following the pattern of the exposition. Nevertheless it seemed a better principle to use what Süssmayr actually sketched rather than to guess at what he might have written.

The movement opens in the grand manner, leading, however, to gentler and subtler moods. The clarinet writing explores both the lyricism and agility of the instrument, making full use of the low compass, supported by varied and imaginative orchestral textures. It would be unfair to compare Süssmayr’s Concerto with his teacher’s. Süssmayr demonstrates, to his credit, that he is his own man, and occasional technical clumsiness, evident here as in his completion of Mozart’s Requiem, may be regarded as a distinctive feature of his music.

The completion of an unfinished work is bound to arouse misgivings but, since Süssmayr himself showed the way, one might say that he deserves it! After a gestation period of two hundred years it would be time even for a white elephant to be born – how much more a Concerto which has freshness, vitality and charm.

from notes by Michael Freyhan © 1991

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