Saturday, May 11, 2013

Weber - Clarinet Concerto In F Minor

Many composers have written concertos for solo instrument and orchestra with a specific soloist in mind. Sometimes the performer was the composer themselves.  In the beginning of the Romantic era it was the norm for musicians to enter the music scene of the times with their own compositions.  All of the great composer/performers from Beethoven to Brahms and many others were soloists in their own works.

Composers also wrote for performers for instruments besides their own. Such was the case with Weber's Clarinet Concerto in F Minor.  It was written in 1811, a time of transition for the clarinet. Improvements were made to make it more chromatic and flexible, and one of the most well-known of the virtuosos of the improved instrument was Heinrich Bärmann. He played in the court orchestra of Munich from 1807 until he retired in 1834. His son was also a virtuoso on the instrument.  Bärmann exploited the improvements on the instrument and was known for his tone and wide dynamic range.

The concerto is in the traditional three movements:
I. Allegro - The work begins with the cellos and double basses stating the main theme with accompaniment
Heinrich Bärmann
by the violas and violins. After the initial statement of the theme, the full orchestra blurts out a double-forte chord, and the theme is played by the violins. The orchestra sets the stage for the entrance of the clarinet with hushed sounds. The clarinet enters with a different melody. Weber's writing for soloist is in turn brilliant and plaintive, with the orchestra being more than an accompaniment. Changes of key ensue as the main theme is once again stated by the low strings, the clarinet finally utters a sad song as the movement quietly winds down and dies away. Weber's flair for orchestration is evident in this first movement, as well as the entire work. The instruments are as if they were singers in a dramatic scene of an opera.
II. Adagio ma non troppo -  Weber uses three horns in this movement, and has them alone play with the clarinet through some sections. The movement moves from minor agitation to solemn dignity as the clarinet sings its way through the movement.
III. Rondo; Allegretto - The clarinet shows the agility it can have in the hands of a master performer as it dances the lively tune of the finale.

The clarinet is a unique member of the orchestra. It is a single-reed instrument with a cylindrical bore (the bassoon and oboe are double reed instruments with a conical bore.) In the hands of a good musician it can have one of the widest dynamic ranges of any instrument. It has three distinct registers or tone qualities, from the rich, deep and breathy chalumeau register(from the ancestor of the clarinet the chalumeau ) to the bright and clear clarion register (a type of early trumpet with a bright sound)to the brilliant and sometimes piercing altissimo register(Italian for very high).  Weber uses all of these registers and qualities of the instrument in his concerto and it is one of the gems of the repertoire.


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