Mozart's Clarinet concerto in A major, K. 622 was written in 1791 for the clarinetist Anton Stadler. It consists of the usual three movements, in a fast-slow-fast form:
- Rondo: Allegro
It was also one of Mozart's final completed works, and his final purely instrumental work (he died in the December following its completion). The concerto is notable for its delicate interplay between soloist and orchestra, and for the lack of overly extroverted display on the part of the soloist (no cadenzas are written out in the solo part). The slow movement was popularized by the film Out of Africa.
Mozart originally wrote the work for basset clarinet, a special clarinet championed by Stadler that had a range down to low (written) C, instead of stopping at (written) E as standard clarinets do. As most clarinets could not play the low notes which Mozart wrote to highlight this instrument, Mozart's publisher arranged a version of the concerto with the low notes transposed to regular range, and did not publish the original version. This has proven a problematic decision, as the autograph no longer exists, having been pawned by Stadler, and until the mid 20th century musicologists did not know that the only version of the concerto written by Mozart's hand had not been heard since Stadler's lifetime. Once the problem was discovered, attempts were made to reconstruct the original version, and new basset clarinets have been built for the specific purpose of performing Mozart's concerto and clarinet quintet. There can no longer be any doubt that the concerto was composed for an extended-range clarinet. Numerous recordings of various restorations exist; some of the notable ones include Sabine Meyer with the Berlin Philharmonic, David Shifrin with the Mostly Mozart Orchestra, and Erich Hoeprich with the Old Fairfield Academy (notable for Hoeprich's use of a period-style basset clarinet based on Stadler's instead of a modern-style instrument).
In this context it is interesting to note that other works were written for Stadler and his instrument by composers closely linked to the Mozart-Stadler circle:
The concerto was given its premiere by Stadler in Prague on October 16, 1791. Reception of his performance was in general positive. The Berlin Musikalisches Wochenblatt noted in January of 1792, "Herr Stadeler, a clarinettist from Vienna. A man of great talent and recognised as such at court... His playing is brilliant and bears witness to his assurance." There was some disagreement on the value of Stadler's extension; some even faulted Mozart for writing for the extended instrument.
First movement: Allegro
Originally written as a sketch for basset horn, the movement opens with an orchestral statement of the main theme. The theme is taken up by the soloist, and the music quickly takes on a more melancholy feel. At the end of this section, the pauses in the solo part are occasionally taken as a point to perform an eingang (cadenza), although no context is offered for a true cadenza. The main theme reappears transposed, and leads to the novel feature of the soloist accompanying the orchestra with an Alberti bass. Further development leads to dramatic turn, which, after a tutti, leads back into the main theme. The Alberti bass and arpeggios for the soloist recur before the movement ends in a relatively cheerful tutti in A major.
The second half of the double exposition of this movement (frequently called simply "the exposition" by clarinetists since it is the only part they play) appears on almost every professional orchestral clarinet audition.
- Orchestral ritornello: bars 1-56
- Solo exposition: bars 57-154
- Ritornello: bars 154-171
- Development: bars 172-227
- Ritornello: bars 227-50
- Recapitulation: bars 251-343
- Ritornello: bars 343-359
Second movement: Adagio
Possibly the best-known part of this concerto, the beautiful and profound Adagio in ternary form (or ABA) opens with the soloist playing the movement's primary theme. The descending notes of the answering theme are more elegiac, and are, like the first, repeated by the orchestra. The development, in which the solo part is always to the fore, exploits both the chalumeau and clarion registers, and is frequently performed with a final cadenza, which is often a section of the Larghetto of Mozart's clarinet quintet.
The first theme and its answer recur (the return of the A section), leading into a coda.
Third movement: Rondo: Allegro
The closing rondo has a cheerful refrain, with episodes either echoing this mood or recalling the darker colours of the first movement. It is a blend of sonata and rondo forms that Mozart developed in his piano concertos, most noticeably the A major Piano Concerto, K. 488.
The opening refrain (bars 1-56) features the soloist in dialogue with the orchestra, much more so than in his piano concertos. In many ways, this is a dialogue of one-upmanship—the more definitive the statement made by the orchestra, the more virtuosic the response by the clarinet.
The first episode (bars 57-113) features chromaticism and dramatic lines custom-written for the basset clarinet with its low extension. The refrain (114-137) is heard again in a slightly simpler manner, and the music modulates to F♯ minor.
The second episode (bars 137-187) contains "one of the most dramatic showcases for the basset clarinet in the entire concerto, featuring spectacular leaps, together with dialog between soprano and baritone registers." After this episode there is no refrain.
The third episode (bars 188-246) is a recapitulation of the first, but instead of a simple restatement, it modulates four times. This allows the soloist frequent opportunities to display chromatic figurations, and the composer to demonstrate his creativity in the reworking of the material.
The refrain (bars 247-301) is heard for the final time, exactly as presented in the opening, before proceeding to the coda (bars 301-353). Here the rondo theme is developed dramatically, using the full range of the clarinet. Mozart uses leaps, trills, and figurations. In the end, the more cheerful mood returns, and the concerto ends with a tutti untouched by the melancholy seen elsewhere in the work.
- ^ a b Hacker, Alan (April 1969). "Mozart and the Basset Clarinet". The Musical Times (Musical Times Publications Ltd.) 110 (1514): 359–362. doi:10.2307/951470. http://jstor.org/stable/951470.
- ^ Ness, Arthur (1963). The Original Text of Mozart's Clarinet Concerto. Cambridge, MA: Master's thesis, Harvard University.
- ^ Adelson, Rob (Fall 1997). "Reading between the (Ledger) Lines: Performing Mozart's Music for the Basset Clarinet". Performance Practice Review 10 (2): 152–191. http://ccdl.libraries.claremont.edu/u?/ppr,168. Retrieved 2007-01-25.
- ^ a b c d e f Lawson, Colin (1996). Mozart: Clarinet Concerto. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.
- ^ Tishkoff, Eric (2001). "Mozart Concerto in A Major for Clarinet and Orchestra". http://www.tishkoff.com/articles/mozart.htm. Retrieved 2009-07-03.
- ^ Rosen, Charles (1997). The Classical Style: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven. New York: W. W. Norton. ISBN 0-393-04020-8. OCLC 35095841. http://books.google.com/?id=vGdcINvz9n4C&dq=isbn=0393040208. Retrieved 2008-01-13.