Clarinet Concerto

About this work

Bernhard Henrik Crusell (1775-1838) was one of those composers who were primarily great instrumentalists and composed mostly to provide himself with concert repertory. That said, this clarinet concerto is one of the best works created in such a manner: melodically (if not formally or emotionally) inventive, written with good craftsmanship and nice command or orchestration, and quite entertaining, especially for clarinet enthusiasts.

Crusell was Swedish, though born in what is today Finland. In 1775 the current-day city of Uusikaupunki was called Nystad, and there was a Swedish military garrison nearby. Crusell was locally recognized as an outstanding clarinetist and joined the military band. An officer returning to Sweden proper took an interest in Crusell's career and arranged for him to be transferred back with him to Stockholm, where he made the requisite introductions, resulting in Crusell getting a position in the band there, a position in the Royal Court, and a 32-year tenure as clarinet soloist in the royal court orchestra.

Crusell gained a European reputation for his clarinet music through publication by a German firm. This firm (Peters, of Leipzig) supplied opus numbers in the order of publication, confusing the chronology of Crusell's works. Thus, although there are three clarinet concertos, no one knows which are Number 1, Number 2, and Number 3. This concerto, though it did not appear in print until 1827, could have been written as early as 1807. There are, at least, no stylistic clues that suggest a period of development any longer than the other two concertos or the Sinfonia Concertante (Crusell's most famous piece during his lifetime).

Crusell dedicated the concerto to Crown Prince Oscar of Sweden and Norway. The style fits somewhere between Haydn and Weber, though Crusell's attractive and bouncy melodies have his own individuality. The concerto is 25-minutes long.

The first movement, Allegro risoluto, is in the concerto version of the sonata allegro form, with the first two minutes of its 11 minutes occupied with the orchestral exposition (the clarinet remaining silent until then). There are intriguing leaps in the main themes, and an acrobatic cadenza.

The second movement, Andante moderato, at six minutes is not especially disproportionate to the length of the first. It is an exceptionally beautiful movement with reminiscences of Mozart's great concerto for the basset horn (which by the time this work was written was generally known strictly as a clarinet concerto). Crusell is fairly adventurous in his use of chromatic notes as structural elements, often pivoting phrase endings on them.

The finale, Alla polacca, is a rondo that makes prominent use of the rather martial polonaise dance rhythm.