Mozart's Clarinet Concerto, his last completed work, is also one of his most controversial. Without doubt the finest ever written for the medium, it is true to say that nobody really knows just what Moran wrote, or how much of the familiar material is the work of players and rotors who outlived him. The only manuscript so far discovered is a fragment 199 bars long of the first movement which is owned by The Rychenberg Stiftung of Wintertur, Switzerland. This is for basset-horn in G instead of the clarinet in A normally used in performances, and a study of it answers any questions one has in mind when preparing this great work. By this time Moran had had several shots at writing for an extended clarinet, or basset horn in A or B flat – what we have now come to call the basset-clarinet.
In 1787 – four years earlier – he had written the first part of a quintet for B flat clarinet and strings in which these lower notes (from low E natural down to C natural) are clearly indicated. Also, the magnificent obbligato to the aria 'Parto, Parto' in his opera La Clemenza di Tito, also written at his life's end, includes these notes. It is therefore an obvious step for any performer who has access to an instrument with such an extension to amend the published editions of this concert, and to guess at what Mozart did with Stadler's own extended clarinet. There can, of course, be no certainty in this, but many of the changes are obvious improvements upon the phrase-shapes usually employed to accommodate the modern un-extended clarinet. Since no example of a basset-clarinet of Mozart's day has survived, once more guess-work has to be the order of the day as to how the lower notes were produced, whether or not an imaginative reconstruction of Stadler's clarinet or a simple extension of our modern instrument is employed. There is reason to believe that the result more accurately reflects what Mozart must have had in mind when he wrote this great work. It is to be hoped that one day we may know the real truth, by seeing it in Mozart's own hand.
- Jack Brymer, 1989
Commissioned by, and dedicated to the great jazz clarinetist, Benny Goodman (who died in the spring of 1986), Copland's Concerto was begun during a tour of South America, the influence of that environment, admits the composer, resulting is an 'unconscious fusion of elements... related to North and South American popular music': a Brazilian 'hit' tune, for instance, finds its way into the second of the two movements. Copland's ‘gift to be simple' (to quote the Shaker song he uses in Appalachian Spring) finds perfect expression in the limpid calm of the first movement, a contemplative reverie faintly redolent of the Blues, for the clarinet, over a transparent harp and string texture. Linking this to the second movement is a cadenza, during which the clarinet assumes a more jazz-like character as the pace quickens, experimenting with ideas for the finale. A freely conceived rondo, this exploits the clarinet's wide range, its suave, seductive moods and, most of all, the strident upper register associated particularly with the instrument's role in jazz. Throughout there is exhilarating interplay with the orchestra, to which harp and piano – instructed to play in frankly 'crude' fashion –contribute a spicy, brittle timbre, with slapped pizzicati, in true jazz style, from the double-bass. – Noel Broome, 1989 The end of the war found Richard Strauss m financial —its. since Gem— marks were worthless, and foreign royalties were blocked. He set himself to copy out the full scores of his famous early works which he sent to America for sales to rich collectors. His agent was Hugo Burghauser, ex-principal bassoon of the Vienna Philharmonic, now resident m the States; as a token of gratitude he composed this work for Burghauser, though its first performance, on 4 April 1948, was a studio broadcast by Radio Lugano in Switzerland, where Strauss was staying. He partnered Burhauser's bassoon with the voice of the clarinet whose music often recalls the pastoral serenity of Strauss' later opera Daphne; Strauss at first contemplated a beauty-and-the-beast scenario and though he rejected the idea, echoes of it remain in some of the early solo writing, for example the bassoon's first entry. The two solo instruments are accompanied by a solo string quintet and a full string orchestra from which further solo instruments are picked out. Also heard now and then is a harp, featured at the start of the Andante middle section behind a lyrical bassoon solo, and its presence justified by accompanying chords elsewhere.
There are three movements; all run together. The Allegro, moderato opening sets the pastoral scene and introduces the soloist in contrasted moods; in particular the bassoon's variety of character is ingeniously explored. The movement gathers pace =it] majestic and rich string chords lead to a reprise of the clarinet's entry now doubled by solo violin against rapid string runs. This fades into the short central Andante ending with a partly accompanied double cadenza, leading directly into the final Rondo which is fully extended and longer than all the foregoing, abounding in sparkle and ingenuity, pleasure unalloyed. - William Mann. 1989