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ClassicsOnline Home » MULLER, I.: Clarinet Quartets Nos. 1 and 2 / Souvenir de Dobberan (Roth, Fuchs, Berolina Ensemble, Le Roux)
Clarinet virtuoso Iwan Müller succeeded in developing the possibilities of his instrument beyond its limitations in Mozart’s time into the modern clarinet, though his compositions have long been overlooked. The beautifully proportioned Clarinet Quartets Nos 1 and 2 form a complementary pair, placing lyrical ease and virtuoso refinement into ‘impossible’ keys as a demonstration of Müller’s innovations. The remaining works often follow an Italianate bel canto style, while his popular Souvenir de Dobbéran is a prototype of the musical postcard genre.
Iwan Müller (1786–1854)
Clarinet Quartets Nos 1 and 2 • Fantaisie • Le rêve • Scène romantique • Le château de Madrid • Souvenir de Dobbéran
Nowadays the name of the clarinet virtuoso and composer Iwan Muller, who was born in 1786 in Reval (now Tallinn) and died in 1854 in Buckeburg, has disappeared from concert programmes, yet his Studies are very familiar to budding clarinettists. His own musico-historical importance lies in the fact that, through the invention of his clarinette omnitonique *, he succeeded in developing the musical possibilities of the somewhat limited instruments of Mozartʼs age into the modern concert clarinet.
Nothing is known about Mullerʼs childhood and youth. What is certain is that, even before his twentieth birthday, he was a clarinettist in the court orchestra of the Tsar of Russia in St Petersburg. Even at that time he was devoting himself to improving the construction of the clarinet. The breakthrough for him came with the introduction of a new key mechanism and the expansion of the number of keys on the instrument to thirteen. Armed with this new instrument in 1808/9 he set out on a tour which took him to Berlin, Leipzig and Vienna. In Vienna he found in Philipp Jacob Riotte (1776–1856) a composer who wrote for him a Clarinet Concerto which revealed for the first time the possibilities of the Muller clarinet. Leading clarinet virtuosi such as Heinrich Baermann (1784–1847) and Johann Simon Hermstedt (1778–1846) recognized immediately the forward-looking character of Mullerʼs innovations and had similar instruments made for themselves. It was for such instruments that the clarinet concertos of Weber and Spohr were written—concertos which are considered substantial works even today.
Iwan Muller went to Paris where he founded a clarinet factory. The year 1812 was a fateful one for him, when a prestigious commission from the Paris Conservatoire to introduce there his ʻsimple systemʼ clarinette omnitonique was rejected. As a result Mullerʼs factory went into receivership and he began a career as a travelling virtuoso, which took him through all of Europe and during which he constantly promoted his new clarinet. This new instrument gradually received wider recognition, enabling Muller to publish a clarinet school for the ʻnew clarinetʼ in 1825. In the winter of 1845/46, together with Georg Wilhelm Heckel (the inventor of the heckelphone), he manufactured a set of sample clarinets which incorporated his life-long experiences. He spent his remaining years in Buckeburg.
Unsurprisingly Mullerʼs creative output was closely bound up with ʻhisʼ clarinet. His own compositions amount to 112 works, which were written between 1810 and 1850. Best-known are six clarinet concertos, as well as four further concertante works for clarinet and orchestra. There is also a Concertante for clarinet, horn and orchestra and two quartets for clarinet and string trio. In addition there are about fifteen pieces for clarinet and piano or harp, as well as studies for the clarinet. As is to be expected from an instrumental virtuoso and composer the presentation of the clarinet is very much to the fore in all of these works. Yet Muller displays a real gift for melody, harmonic richness and not least a sense of musical economy which stretches, but does not exceed, the potential of his ideas.
The Clarinet Quartets Nos 1 and 2 were published in 1820 and were intended as complementary works. With its three-movement layout the Clarinet Quartet No 1 in B flat major adheres to the well-known Mozartian form. It opens with a conventional sonata movement in B flat major, while the short Adagio con espressione, in the unusual key of G flat major, compels attention. The third movement is a polonaise, once more in B flat major. With its two-movement structure the Clarinet Quartet No 2 is more modern than the first and it also makes more virtuoso demands on the soloist. From a technical point of view the sonata-allegro first movement rings the changes and it cannot conceal its debt to contemporary opera of the period. There follows a cantabile movement, a theme and four variations based on the Russian song Beautiful Minka, on which Beethoven (Op 107 No 7), Weber (Op 40) and Hummel (Op 78) also wrote variations at about the same time. The main impression left by the quartet is its key of E minor, which, as the critic of the Leipzig Allgemeine Musikzeitung pointed out, would have been absolutely impossible to play on a traditional clarinet. It was surely no coincidence that the work was dedicated to the afore-mentioned Johann Simon Hermstedt, who was promoting Mullerʼs new clarinet from the start.
The Fantaisie sur un Thème de Mozart pour la Clarinette, for clarinet and piano, dates from about the same time as the clarinet quartets. After a recitative-like introduction in F minor comes a theme and five variations. This theme is the minuet “Signor, Guardate un poco” from the first act finale of Mozartʼs Don Giovanni. The fifth variation is an extended coda variation with a waltz tempo indication. On the one hand the influence of Mozart on the piece is obvious—in the second decade of the 1800s he was starting to be celebrated as a ʻclassicʼ—while on the other the historical distance from Mozart is also apparent. The courtly, danced, minuet was giving way here to the newly arrived bourgeois waltz.
The remaining three pieces for clarinet and piano date from the 1840s. They are examples of that sophisticated romantic salon music to which belong the piano pieces of Chopin, Liszt and Thalberg. A striking feature of these works is their closeness to contemporary Italian operas and their bel canto style, with which Muller, as a solo clarinettist in opera houses in both Paris and London, would naturally have been very well acquainted. This style demands of clarinettists, as well as singers, a highly-developed sensibility with regard to tone-quality and articulation and is likewise only possible on the Muller clarinet. With its dramatic introduction, Cantabile adagio and virtuoso Allegro, Le rêve, Episode dramatique, Op 73, is a sort of instrumental scene and aria modelled on Italian opera. Le château de Madrid, Op 79, is a three-part polonaise which, as the title suggests, contains elements of a bolero. The Scène romantique, Op 96, consists of an Adagio introduction and a five-part Allegretto, which seems to retell the stages of an imaginary story.
In Mullerʼs own lifetime the Souvenir de Dobbéran, Op 28, for two clarinets (or clarinet and horn) and piano, was the most popular of his compositions. In the summer of 1824 Muller had given concerts in Bad Doberan, which in 1793 had become the first medicinal and seaside resort and which later became the model for the great spa resorts such as Karlsbad, Baden-Baden and Vichy. As early as the 1820s members of high society would gather in Bad Doberan for their summer holidays, a situation which naturally offered musicians the opportunity to present spa concerts and thus fill in the period during which theatres were closed. With this exuberant, indulgent piece, written in several parts, in thirds and sixths and resembling a sort of Italian opera duet, one could easily get the impression that Muller himself had experienced his stay in Doberan as a summer holiday. It could well be that the sea air and the very characteristic light of the Baltic coast had reminded him of his own home town of Reval (Tallinn). Incidentally, with this work Muller created the prototype of the musical postcard, an example which was taken up by many composers in the nineteenth century, such as Saint-Saëns in his Une nuit à Lisbonne, Op 63, or Elgar with In Smyrna.
English version by David Stevens
* A ʻsimple systemʼ model of clarinet with a separate finger-hole or key for each note
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