Weber’s Clarinet Concerto No. 1
Notes by TŌN clarinetist Elias Rodriguez
There is no doubt that the clarinet was Carl Maria von Weber’s favorite wind instrument. Weber’s contributions to clarinet literature are significant and of comparable importance to that of Mozart and Brahms. It was only during the second half of the 18th century that the clarinet was sufficiently developed to become generally accepted as an orchestral and solo instrument. And between the years 1811 and 1816, Weber wrote no fewer than seven compositions featuring the clarinet. These include the Quintet Op. 34, a concertino, two concerti, and the Grand Duo Concertant, Op. 48, all of which (except the Duo) were written for the renowned clarinetist of the period, Heinrich Baermann (1784–1847). The First Concerto, composed in 1811, came about from a commission by Maximilian Joseph, King of Bavaria, after the success that the composer had with his Concertino Op. 26, written just before. The musicians of the orchestra begged Weber to write a concerto for their respective instrument, but to their dismay, he responded by writing a trio of pieces for solo clarinet.
I initially chose this concerto for the first movement theme introduced by the orchestra. From the onset, the music is full of drama. I fell in love with the decorative melodies contrasted by dramatic statements from the orchestra, and there is something captivating to me about the key of F minor, which though somber in sound, allows for a lot of expression—and it is no wonder. Non-clarinetists know Weber prominently for his opera overtures, most notably Der Freischütz, Oberon, and Euryanthe. And this concerto is essentially an opera in one act without words.
In my lessons of this piece, my teacher emphasized the importance of singing through my instrument, and I was encouraged to attend or listen to more opera, in order to better emulate the early German romantic style.
The second movement Adagio resembles largely and demonstrates the influence of the second movement Adagio from Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A major, K. 622, written just 20 years before. The melody is melancholic, and the long phrases test the soloist’s air control.
Characteristic of ending most concerti from the Classical and early Romantic period, the third and finale movement is a rondo. In a rondo, a principal theme (typically jovial and light in character) alternates with one or more contrasting themes.
Weber writes a number of expressive markings throughout the concerto, among them con duolo (with pain), morendo (dying), con anima (with soul), lusingando (flattering), scherzando (joking), con fuoco (with fire).
I try to live my life as peaceful as possible, but when it comes to music, bring all of the drama! I’ve known since I was a very young clarinetist that if I ever had the honor to stand in front of an orchestra, I would play Weber, without a second thought.