25 Feb 2011

Mozart – Concerto in A Major for Clarinet and Orchestra

Written by Jeff Counts

Instrumentation: 2 flutes, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, strings.
Duration: 25 minutes in three movements (with pauses).

The Clarinet Concerto of 1791 is one of Mozart’s last completed works. It was written for Anton Stadler during a time when the composer was enmeshed in the final stages of not only the Requiem, but the operas Die Zauberflöte and La Clemenza di Tito as well. It was premiered less than two months before Mozart’s untimely passing.

It is no surprise that the Clarinet Concerto’s status as Mozart’s last solely instrumental piece has led scholars to mine it for clues of the Mozart that might have been. It is difficult to say how much this music tells us about how the great master’s voice would have developed had he lived beyond 1791 but it is interesting to consider the popularity of the work outside of its important historical position in the composer’s catalogue. Mozart’s collaborative relationship with clarinetist Anton Stadler did much to advance the reputation of the instrument. He wrote for it often and the concerto he produced marks a perfect synthesis of compositional intention, soloistic possibility and instrumental development. The clarinet of 1791 was a highly capable technical vehicle for Mozart’s ingenuity and complex melodic desires and in Stadler he found a virtuoso worthy of the challenge. The Concerto is still regarded by many as the best of its class, even when compared to the formidable repertoire it spawned. The works of Weber, Nielsen, Copland and others owe much to its sense of balance and interplay between soloist and accompaniment. The clarinet itself owes Mozart much more than that. Though the instrument didn’t start with Mozart, it was his loving devotion that brought it into full bloom.         

Mozart was not quite 36 when he died in 1791. Haydn was a robust 59. Beethoven was just shy of 21. The United States was barely 25. The clarinet, in 1791, was probably closing on its 100th birthday.   

The Clarinet Concerto has been featured most often on the Salute to Youth program (1967, 1974 and 1987) but has also been programmed on the Chamber Series (1995) and as part of the summer season of 2002. Utah Symphony musicians appeared as soloist on both of the latter performances and current Principal Clarinet Tad Calcara will be again featured this evening.