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   Basset-Clarinet Concerto in A major, K.622

W A Mozart(1756-91)

Allegro Adagio Rondo: Allegro

The Work's Background and Sources

Mozart completed this Concerto on October 1st 1791 two months before he died.  All that survives of the manuscript is 199 bars of a sketch for Basset Horn in G - the Winterthur manuscript known as K621b (possibly dating back as early as 1787).  The work's dedicatee - the most famous clarinettist and basset horn player of his day - Anton Stadler must have informed Mozart that he and the court instrument maker Theodor Lodz had been successful in extending his clarinet in A by four semitones to written low C. Mozart and Stadler (or "Stodla" as Mozart called him in mock Bohemian dialect) were great drinking companions and members of the same Masonic Lodge in Vienna.  This may account for Mozart's aside in a letter to his wife comparing Stadler("a bit of an ass") with Süssmayr("a complete ass"),  the composer who was supposed to have completed Mozart's unfinished Requiem and alleged to have had an affair with his wife.  

Stadler, a avid experiment with his instruments, had already extended his Basset Horn (a kind of alto clarinet normally pitched in F and G) to low C.  He set about similar extensions to his normal clarinets in B flat and A. Mozart so loved the dark sound of the Basset Horn that the instrument seems to have assumed an almost Masonic significance for him featuring in the Gran Partita for 13 Wind Instruments K361, the Masonic Funeral Music K477 and the Requiem, as well as the Marriage of Figaro, La Clemenza di Tito and the incomplete Quintet movement K580b.  The basset clarinet in A or "Bass" Clarinet as it was then known seems to have been short lived.  The modern Bass Clarinet in B flat - almost an octave lower in pitch - was only widely used and so called from the middle of the nineteenth century.  

Before his death Mozart entrusted the completed manuscript of the concerto to Stadler.  He also provided him with funds and introductions for a concert tour the clarinettist had planned.  In the event the tour lasted four years, taking in Bohemia, Moravia, Germany, Poland and Russia.  In 1795 Stadler returned to his post at the court orchestra in Vienna. Somewhere on tour it appears the manuscript was mislaid.  The original or a copy eventually reached the safe hands of Breitkopf and Härtel of Leipzig who published an adaptation for normal clarinet in A in 1801.  Within a year three other firms had brought out pirated versions.  The manuscript - surrendered after publication by Breitkopf and Härtel - has never been found.  All subsequent editions have had to be based on this edition.  After its first British performance in 1838, a critic disparagingly referred to it as "a product of André's laboratory" - one of the three pirated edtions! Indeed only recently an arrangement of the Concerto for Piano Quintet by one Christian Schwencke (1767-1822) has surfaced providing tantalising clues in determining the solo line of Mozart's original. Published at some time between 1799 and 1805 by Böhme of Hamburg, Schwencke's version revises many clarinet passages to accommodate the tonal and technical medium of the piano.  Thus long sustained notes on the clarinet have become trills and figuration has been extended to allow for the decay inherent in a piano's sound.  It remains however an arrangement of the work and is therefore confusing rather than helpful in the search for what Mozart may originally have written.  

It was only in the early 1960s, when musicologists uncovered musical examples of Mozart's original in the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung of March 1802, that many a player's suspicions about the real solo instrument were confirmed.  Since then several have reconstructed Mozart's solo lines for performance on modern or "authentic" basset clarinets.  My own version attempts to iron out some of the mis-shapen melodic contours as naturally as possibly, taking into account the various sources available, available sources on performance practice pf the period and Mozart's orchestration. 

The three movements of the Concerto contain some of Mozart's finest music. The finely balanced structure of the first movement, the heavenly melody of the Adagio and the ebullience and irrepressable joy of the final Rondo all demonstrate beyond any doubt Mozart's love of the clarinet in a work that remains unsurpassed in brilliance and beauty.

Nicholas Cox © 1998 revised 2002


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