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Clarinet Concerto in A major, K622


Often, throughout musical history, the supreme artistry of a particular performer has inspired a composer to create some of his most distinctive works. Thus Mozart wrote his horn concertos for the cheese-monger Joseph Leutgeb, Weber and Brahms composed glorious clarinet works for Heinrich Baermann and Richard Mühlfeld respectively, and Britten wrote numerous operatic roles and song-cycles especially for the tenor voice of Peter Pears.

The last and greatest of Mozart’s several wind concertos is the clarinet concerto, completed only weeks before his premature death. At this time he was inspired by the outstanding musicianship of the clarinettist Anton Stadler, composing this concerto—as well as a trio with viola and piano, a quintet and obbligato parts in two operatic arias—especially for him. Stadler, a close friend of Mozart and fellow-member of the Masonic Lodge to which he belonged, had recently developed a new type of clarinet with an extension of four extra semitones to the register which particularly fascinated him—the lowest. This basset-clarinet was the instrument for which Mozart originally composed both the concerto and the quintet, but it soon became obsolete. Also the manuscripts of both works were lost, so the concerto was published in an adaptation (by an unknown editor) for orthodox clarinet.

Mozart was the absolute professional in his treatment of every orchestral instrument, showing deep understanding of the special character and technique of each one. For instance, in this concerto he exploits the clarinet’s easy agility of movement from one extreme of its range to the other, often requiring the soloist to leap between high and low registers even on successive notes in a melody. Elsewhere alternating high and low phrases occasionally suggest an operatic dialogue between soprano (or mezzo-soprano) and baritone (or bass). In common with other works of Mozart’s last year—including The Magic Flute and the final piano concerto in B flat, K595—the clarinet concerto combines a new degree of simplicity with limpid grace and transparency of texture. The omission of oboes contributes to the mellower orchestral sound, while the key of A major—as in the K488 piano concerto—seems, for Mozart, to have been associated with a certain characteristic tone-colour. Many composers favoured a more classical purity of language in their late music, and of course one may wonder how Mozart would have continued had he lived beyond the age of thirty-five. However, we should guard against the notion that Mozart was aware of impending death when he completed works such as the K595 piano concerto or this clarinet concerto in 1791, because sketched material for the first movement of each work actually dates from about three years earlier. Anton Stadler gave the premiere in Prague on 16 October 1791.

from notes by Phillip Borg-Wheeler © 2019


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