Accompanied by the hr-Sinfonieorchester (Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra), the German composer and clarinetist Jörg Widmann performs Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A major, K. 622. Conductor: Hugh Wolff. Recorded on January 15, 2016, at the Alte Oper Frankfurt.
Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A major, K. 622
The Clarinet Concerto in A major, K. 622, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, is one of his final completed works and the pinnacle of his compositions for the woodwind family. Composed in 1791, the same year as his death, this concerto is notable for its profound expression and masterful orchestration. It was written for Mozart’s friend and fellow Freemason, Anton Stadler, an accomplished clarinetist known for his virtuosity and expressive playing.
Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto stands out for its beautiful melodic lines, rich harmonies, and the intimate interplay between the solo clarinet and the orchestra. It’s often celebrated for its lyrical and soothing qualities, showcasing the clarinet’s wide range of capabilities from warm, low tones to bright, singing high notes. This concerto is a beloved piece in the clarinet repertoire and is frequently performed and recorded by clarinetists around the world.
The work’s creation coincided with a time when the clarinet was still a relatively new addition to the orchestra and was rapidly evolving. Mozart’s acquaintance with Stadler likely inspired him to explore the instrument’s potential fully. The concerto demonstrates a deep understanding and appreciation of the clarinet’s unique sound and character.
Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto is also significant for its historical context. It was composed during a period of personal and financial difficulties for Mozart. Despite these challenges, the concerto’s music is imbued with a sense of warmth and serenity. The piece’s enduring popularity is a testament to its emotional depth and Mozart’s genius as a composer.
The concerto’s legacy is further enhanced by the fact that the original manuscript was lost. The version commonly performed today is based on a set of parts that were prepared for its first publication several years after Mozart’s death. This has led to some debate among musicians and scholars regarding certain aspects of the composition, especially concerning the type of clarinet intended by Mozart. The clarinet used in the 18th century was different from the modern clarinet in terms of range and timbre, which has implications for the concerto’s performance practice.
It consists of the usual three movements, in a fast-slow-fast form. With the start times in the video:
- [00:32] Allegro (in A major and in sonata form)
- [13:15] Adagio (in D major and in ternary form)
- [21:15] Rondo: Allegro (in A major and in rondo form)
The first movement of Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A major, K. 622, is marked as “Allegro” and is a beautiful exposition of the clarinet’s lyrical and expressive capabilities. This movement, like the rest of the concerto, is set in the sonata-allegro form, a common structure used in the first movements of concertos and symphonies during the Classical period.
In this movement, the orchestra begins with a graceful and engaging introduction, setting a serene and uplifting mood. This introduction establishes the key themes that will be explored and developed throughout the movement. After the orchestral opening, the clarinet enters with a statement that is both a continuation and a response to the initial themes introduced by the orchestra. The solo clarinet part is characterized by its fluid, singing melodies, showcasing the instrument’s range and expressive qualities.
The development section of the movement takes these themes and explores them further, often modulating to different keys and showcasing the clarinet’s versatility. Mozart’s skillful orchestration allows for a rich interplay between the soloist and the orchestra, creating a dialogue that is both harmonious and dynamic.
As the movement progresses towards the recapitulation, the main themes are revisited and reaffirmed, often with slight variations and elaborations. The clarinet’s role remains central, with the soloist navigating through intricate passages that highlight technical prowess and emotional expression.
The first movement concludes with a coda that brings a sense of resolution and closure, often revisiting the themes from the movement’s opening and showcasing the clarinet’s warm, resonant lower register.
Throughout this movement, Mozart’s writing for the clarinet is both challenging and rewarding for the performer, requiring a blend of technical skill and expressive nuance. The Allegro sets the tone for the concerto, displaying the clarinet’s capabilities as a solo instrument and Mozart’s genius in composing for it. The movement is a masterpiece of balance and elegance, combining Mozart’s classical sensibilities with the unique qualities of the clarinet.
The second movement of Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A major, K. 622, marked “Adagio,” is renowned for its exquisite beauty and emotional depth. This movement is a stark contrast to the lively and intricate first movement, showcasing the clarinet’s capacity for tender and expressive lyricism.
Characterized by its slow tempo and serene atmosphere, the Adagio is often described as one of the most beautiful slow movements in the classical repertoire. The movement opens with a gentle, flowing melody played by the clarinet, immediately setting a tone of introspection and calm. This melody is simple yet profoundly expressive, demonstrating Mozart’s ability to convey deep emotion through uncomplicated musical lines.
The orchestration in this movement is subtle and supportive, providing a soft cushion upon which the clarinet’s voice can soar. The strings, in particular, play a significant role in creating a warm, lush background that complements the solo instrument’s sound.
Throughout the Adagio, the clarinet explores a range of dynamics and expressions, from the softest, most intimate whispers to more full-bodied, resonant statements. The melody itself undergoes variations and developments as the movement progresses, but the overall mood of tranquility and contemplation remains constant.
One of the most notable aspects of this movement is the seamless blend of the clarinet with the orchestra. Mozart crafts a dialogue between the soloist and the ensemble that feels both natural and emotionally resonant. The interplay between the clarinet and the strings, in particular, creates moments of sublime beauty.
The Adagio’s conclusion is as gentle and unassuming as its beginning. The movement closes with a sense of peaceful resolution, leaving a lingering sense of warmth and serenity. This movement is often praised for its purity of expression and is a favorite among both clarinetists and audiences for its evocative, heart-touching qualities.
3. Rondo: Allegro
The finale of Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A major, K. 622, is marked “Rondo: Allegro.” This final movement brings a lively and joyful conclusion to the concerto, showcasing the clarinet’s agility and the cheerful side of its character.
The Rondo form, characterized by a principal theme (the “refrain”) that alternates with contrasting sections (the “episodes”), is perfectly suited to the playful and virtuosic nature of this movement. The main theme is spirited and catchy, setting a bright and buoyant mood right from the start. This theme, which returns several times throughout the movement, provides a sense of coherence and unity.
In between repetitions of the refrain, Mozart introduces contrasting episodes that explore different moods and allow for varied expressions. These sections often feature rapid passages, intricate fingerwork, and lively rhythms, challenging the soloist’s technical abilities while maintaining a sense of lightness and elegance.
The orchestral accompaniment in the third movement is lively and well-integrated with the solo clarinet line. The orchestra not only supports but also converses with the clarinet, sometimes echoing its melodies or providing a counterpoint to the soloist’s lines. The interplay between the solo instrument and the ensemble adds to the movement’s dynamic and playful character.
One of the remarkable aspects of this movement is Mozart’s ability to balance technical brilliance with musicality. The clarinet part is demanding, with quick runs, leaps, and intricate figurations, yet these technical elements never overshadow the music’s inherent charm and joy.
The movement, and thus the concerto, concludes with a spirited coda that revisits the main theme, bringing the piece to a lively and satisfying close. This final movement leaves the listener with a sense of exhilaration and delight, rounding off the concerto with a display of both the clarinet’s versatility and Mozart’s compositional genius.
Jörg Widmann (born 19 June 1973) is a German composer and clarinetist. He lives and works in Munich and Freiburg.
He has achieved success both as a clarinetist and as a composer. As a soloist, he has performed with major orchestras both in Germany and abroad, under such conductors as Christoph von Dohnányi, Sylvain Cambreling, and Kent Nagano. Several clarinet concerti have been dedicated to Widmann and premiered by him: in 1999 through “musica viva”, he played Music for Clarinets and Orchestra by Wolfgang Rihm, and in 2006 with the WDR Symphony Orchestra, Cantus by Aribert Reimann.
Jörg Widmann’s compositions draw on different musical genres. He has composed, for example, a Trilogy for orchestra examining the projection of vocal forms of instrumental ensembles. The Trilogy consists of Lied (premiered in 2003 and recorded on CD by the Bamberg Symphony with Jonathan Nott), Chor (premiered in 2004 by the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin with Kent Nagano), and Messe, which was premiered in June 2005 by the Munich Philharmonic under Christian Thielemann. In 2007 Pierre Boulez and the Vienna Philharmonic premiered his orchestral work Armonica.
His string quartets are of particular note among his chamber music works: First String Quartet (1997), followed by Choral Quartet and Hunting Quartet, which premiered in 2003 with the Arditti Quartet. 2005 saw the first performances of the Fourth String Quartet and of Experiment on a Fugue (Fifth String Quartet with soprano), with Juliane Banse and the Artemis Quartet. Together, this series of quartets form a great cycle.
His études IV-VI for violin (2004–10) were premiered by his sister Carolin Widmann at the Wittener Tage für neue Kammermusik on 23 April 2010. He performed his Fantasie for clarinet (1993) to celebrate the 80th birthday of Walter Fink at the Rheingau Musik Festival on 16 July 2010.
On 9 September 2015, the Boston Symphony and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra announced they were commissioning work from Widmann as part of a planned collaboration by the two organizations beginning in the fall of 2017.
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