solo clarinet, 2 flutes, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, violins, violas, cellos, basses
notes by James Keays
III. Rondo: Allegro
First performance: October 16, 1791, Prague. Anton Stadler, clarinet.
To say that Mozart’s last year was an extraordinary one could well be an understatement. Indeed, a merely ordinary composer might have been proud to have accomplished in years what he accomplished during that period. It was not only the number of works, but their quality and the conditions under which they were composed which makes this period so special. The Köchel Catalog lists thirty-three new compositions written from December 1790 to the time of his death one year later. On the list, one can find two string quintets, a piano concerto, two pieces for mechanical organ, numerous dances, the operas Die Zauberflöte and La Clemenza di Tito, a Masonic cantata, the Requiem, and his last orchestral work, the Concerto for Clarinet.
It was almost inevitable that Mozart would write a clarinet concerto, for no other major composer championed the new instrument more than Mozart. He wrote for it whenever he could be assured of having good players to perform the parts and, in doing so, forced its acceptance into any orchestra desiring to perform his works. This particular woks owes its existence to Mozart’s friendship with the great clarinetist Anton Stadler, for whom he had earlier written the Quintet, K. 581.
The concerto was originally sketched as a work in G Major for basset horn, a type of alto clarinet pitched five steps below the normal B-flat clarinet. After completing the first movement, Mozart changed his mind and decided in favor of Stadler’s “basset clarinet”, a standard clarinet with an extension to allow it to play four half-steps lower than normal. Unfortunately, the original manuscript was lost and the work survived only in an edition published for the standard instrument with the extreme low notes transposed up one octave. It wasn’t until the 1960s that clarinetists began to express interest in again performing the work on an extended instrument. Because this instrument is very rare, most modern performances use the non-extended clarinet in A.
Although the work is in no sense a virtuoso showpiece—there is no cadenza, for example—it no doubt proved to be exceedingly demanding for a clarinetist playing an instrument with only five or six keys and can be used as a measure of Stadler’s extraordinary abilities. Mozart evidently trusted his friend to the extent that he provided very few dynamic markings, knowing that Stadler’s musicianship could provide the necessary shadings. The work was finished in October 1791, during the time that Mozart was heavily involved with the first twenty or so performances of Die Zauberflöte. Many writers have suggested that the noble serenity of the concerto reflects Mozart’s intense emotional involvement with the production of the opera. Whatever the reasons, the combination of Stadler’s ability with Mozart’s love of the instrument and emotional state of mind resulted in a work generally considered to be among the finest written for any solo instrument.
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