Thursday, June 5, 2014

Spohr - Clarinet Concerto No. 3 In F minor

Louis Spohr was a violinist, conductor and composer who was well regarded in his lifetime, but shortly after his death in 1859 his music fell into neglect. His compositional style fell into the transitional period between the Classical and Romantic eras.  Spohr was also a practical musician and is credited with inventing the chin rest for the violin, rehearsal numbers for orchestral scores and was an early proponent of using a baton when conducting.

He was a very prolific composer and wrote in all the genres of the time.  Spohr made a name for himself after he performed one of his compositions on the violin at a concert in Leipzig in 1804 to critical acclaim. He was also active in Vienna and worked on Beethoven's Piano Trio Opus 70, No. 1 "Ghost" with the composer. He remained on cordial terms with Beethoven and worked as a conductor in Vienna from 1813-1815. He also wrote a treatise on violin playing, Violinschule, which not only gave solid instruction on the basics but the latest advances in violin technique. It was a standard for violin education for many years.

Johann Simon Hermstedt
Spohr wrote four clarinet concertos, with the first being commissioned in 1808 for the virtuoso clarinetist Johann Simon Hermstedt by the clarinettist's royal employer. This was followed by the second concerto in 1810 and the third concerto in 1821. This was a time when the clarinet was still going through modifications and Spohr's concertos added to the genesis of the modern clarinet, and as such Spohr's works for the clarinet did not meet with the neglect after his death that much of his other music suffered.

The third concerto is considered by many to be the weakest musically of the four Spohr wrote for the instrument. But it is a success as a virtuoso showpiece for the clarinetist that can handle its difficulties. The work is in three movements:

I. Allegro moderato -  The concerto begins with a dramatic opening from the orchestra. This first theme is short, and leads to another theme in F major. After this theme is played through, the theme is repeated in F minor. After some other material the soloist enters with its own version of the themes.  The soloist goes far afield with material that is more for displaying the skill of the soloist than any progression of themes. The spotlight is on the soloist with a few orchestral interruptions, kind of like an orchestral seasoning to a dish that is dominated by the clarinet. There is no cadenza, as the clarinet makes its way to the final high note with the accompaniment of the orchestra.

II. Adagio - The orchestra introduces the movement, and the clarinet soon enters with music that is in the style of an operatic aria.  At the middle point the orchestra introduces new material that the clarinet comments on in turn. The aria returns and the movement ends quietly.

III. Vivace non troppo -  The soloist plays the main theme. The orchestra interjects new material, and the clarinet repeats the main theme with variations. This is the basic scheme of the movement. As the music nears the end, it takes on a more dance like character until the last high note of the soloist.


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