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Views And Reviews: Weber’s Clarinet Concerto No.1

Paul Serotsky introduces us to Weber’s Clarinet Concerto No.1, a work commissioned by King Maximilian I of Bavaria.

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Weber (1786-1826) – Clarinet Concerto No. 1

Armed with experiences of his father's travelling theatre company, a melodic gift fuelled by German national folk styles, and a pioneering flair for dramatic orchestration, Weber ousted the Italian influence and thereby earned the famous legend, “Father of German Opera”. When set against the magnitude of this operatic achievement, his concert works can seem a bit, well, pale. However, viewed in their own light, while maybe not exactly Earth-shattering they nevertheless appear as finely crafted, intelligent music, expanding on the exemplary models of his “cousin-in-law”, a certain Herr W. A. Mozart.

Impressed by the Clarinet Concertino, King Maximilian I of Bavaria commissioned the two Clarinet Concertos, which Weber wrote specifically for performance by his friend, Heinrich Barmann. The First Concerto follows (wait for it!) the standard fast-slow-fast pattern of three movements. The finale (Allegretto) is a nice, neat rondo with a perky main tune, but there practically all similarity to classical form ends.

The first two movements breathe operatic air: an orchestra ever-alive to dramatic opportunities supports a virtuoso “vocalist” with an improbably wide range. The first movement (Allegro) is not a sonata-form. Orchestra and soloist play a subject apiece, cadenza and “coda” appear midway through the movement, and there's no literal recapitulation, all apparently to clear the decks for a stunning ending. The second movement (Adagio), spinning a wonderful web of melodic variation, sounds for all the world like an operatic aria, except I somehow doubt it could ever be sung!

© Paul Serotsky

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