Clarinet Concerto

Bernhard Henrik Crusell

Clarinet Concerto in Eb major

Op. 1

About this work

This is a genial, attractive, clarinet concerto in a conventional late Classical period form and style. Although it is no more than a well-made piece by a talented journeyman-composer, it is idiomatically written for clarinet and, therefore, has a place among the small number of viable concertos for the instrument dating from before the twentieth century.

Bernard Henrik Crusell (1775 - 1838) was born in Nystad, a town now called Uusikaupunki, in Finland, which at the time was Swedish territory. He was an ethnic Swede, and spoke Swedish rather than Finnish. He was such a gifted clarinet player that while still a teenager he taught the instrument in his home town, and joined the local military band. One of the Swedish officers, Major Wallenstjerna, saw to it that Crusell was transferred to Stockholm, where he was able to study and improve his playing, and served for 32 years in the royal court orchestra. He did not compose prolifically, but did write a number of important works with clarinet, especially between the years 1803 and 1812.

The date of composition of this concerto is uncertain; it might have been as early as 1803, and it seems it first appeared in print in 1811. Crusell dedicated it to an important court official who had helped him get established, Count Gustaf de Trolle-Bonde, who was the chamberlain to the Queen Mother and a member of the Stockholm Musical Academy.

The concerto is in the standard three movements, marked Allegro, Adagio, and Allegretto. As is often the case with concertos written in this time period, the weight of the work is predominantly on a disproportionately long opening movement, since Crusell followed the convention that the concerto begins with an orchestra-only full exposition, followed by another one featuring the solo instrument. This movement accounts for fully half of the 22-minute length of the concerto.

The first subject has a martial dotted-note quality, giving the movement a somewhat ceremonial quality. It contrasts with a truly fine and very lyrical second subject. There is a cadenza in the expected place, and the development, if not outstanding, shows skill and imagination.

The second movement is a brief (three and a half minute) piece with the mood of a sad operatic aria, and includes some nice scoring for the horns.

The clarinet announces the jaunty main theme of the finale right off. The form of the movement is simple: It is a rondo, with the melody of each episode dominated by the clarinet, while an orchestral restatement rounds off the ending of each section.