Louis Spohr was one of the most significant personalities in German music in the first half of the nineteenth century, equally outstanding as a composer, violinist, conductor, teacher and organizer who was considered a leading pioneer of early Romanticism. In fact he ranked during his lifetime as a member of the pantheon of great composers, his music played and loved by thousands. Gradually he slipped from this Olympian height, but in more recent decades he has enjoyed something of a revival, mainly fuelled by his delightful chamber music including the Nonet and the Octet (on Hyperion CDA66699) and the Double Quartets (on Hyperion Dyad CDD22014) and also by his numerous works for clarinet.
Spohr, who was born in Brunswick on 5 April 1784 and died in Kassel on 22 October 1859, was a twenty-year-old violin virtuoso when he shot to fame after a sensational concert in Leipzig on 10 December 1804. The following year the young composer was offered the post of Music Director at the enlightened court of Gotha and, at twenty-one, he became the youngest incumbent in Germany of such a position. His Gotha employers were sufficiently worried by his youth that they publicly declared him to be a few years older—perhaps a necessary strategy when deference to age and experience was the norm. It was at Gotha in the autumn of 1808 that Spohr met the clarinet virtuoso Johann Simon Hermstedt, and the two men hit it off straight away. Spohr immediately began work on the Concerto in C minor. Hermstedt was so taken by the work that—rather than insisting on the composer modifying some of his more outlandish, and unplayable, demands—he adapted and expanded his instrument to suit the music, thus bringing about important developments in the range and flexibility of the clarinet, expanding it from five keys to thirteen.
In the summer of 1810 Germany’s first genuine music festival was staged in Frankenhausen and Spohr was selected as conductor, a remarkable accolade as he was by far the youngest contender for the position. Hermstedt’s appetite for new Spohr works was insatiable and he proposed that he should unveil a second clarinet concerto at the festival. Accordingly, Spohr got to work during the spring and the Concerto in E flat major was first performed by Hermstedt at Frankenhausen on 22 July 1810.
The British clarinettist Michael Collins is one of the most sought-after and successful wind players of his generation. At the age of sixteen he won the woodwind prize in the first BBC Young Musician of the Year Competition, and at twenty-two made his American debut at Carnegie Hall, New York. Since then he has performed as a soloist with many of the world’s major orchestras and most renowned conductors. This is his first solo recording for Hyperion.