Clarinet Concerto

About this work

The order of composition of Crusell's three surviving clarinet concertos is uncertain, but we do know that this F minor work, probably the last of the series (despite its numbering), was first performed in 1815. Crusell took pride in this concerto; he selected this work when, in 1817, he was granted permission to dedicate a piece to Emperor Alexander I in St. Petersburg. Furthermore, a portion of this score is plainly visible in an 1826 portrait of the composer. Crusell was one of the leading clarinetists of his time and he wrote his three concertos for his own use, yet the F minor concerto is no lightweight display piece. Indeed, Crusell focuses on musical values and resists exploiting the absolute upper range of the instrument of his time (probably because he had adopted the new technique of playing with the reed facing down, which restricted the range but expanded the dynamic possibilities). The substantial Allegro movement begins with a slow introductory theme, initially quiet and pensive but soon becoming agitated, calling to mind the early Romantic works of Weber more than Beethoven. The clarinet eventually enters with its own version of this theme, initially sketchy but then repeated with greater ornamentation. The exposition unfolds with material that's really no more than an extension of the opening theme, which the soloist gives increasingly florid but graceful permutations until the orchestra breaks in with the agitato music from late in the introduction. When the clarinet returns to the forefront, it is with Weber-esque music derived from the tail end of the introduction. This and the earlier main theme form the basis of the movement's brief development, which the orchestra rounds off with its agitato material. The soloist leads the way through the recapitulation, but resists any inclination to play a cadenza; indeed, the solo writing is more often quiet than brilliant -- a more subtle challenge than musical fireworks. Similarly, the songful Andante pastorale makes its effect with highly controlled -- quite soft -- dynamics, and requires smooth legato playing. It also ends with a little echo effect, as if the clarinet were playing softly in a forest. The concluding Allegretto is a rondo, its primary theme teasing and a little bumptious despite being in the minor mode; only when the orchestra enters full force does the music take a more dramatic turn. The clarinet's episodes remain light, often burbling up and down the scale.