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ClassicsOnline Home » STAMITZ, C.: Clarinet Concertos, Vol. 2
By Brian Wilson
Carl Stamitz (1745-1801)
Clarinet Concertos Vol. 2
Among the best-known orchestral works of Carl Philip Stamitz (1745-1801) are the clarinet concertos which rank not only among the earliest concertos for the instrument but also among the finest of any concertos by Mozart's contemporaries. Comparatively little is known about the origin of these works in spite of their obvious historical and musical importance. The latest research has narrowed the composition date of the eight authentic works to around the years 1771-1776 when Stamitz was living in Paris.
Stamitz would have been well acquainted with the clarinet prior to his move to Paris in 1770 as the Mannheim court orchestra, of which he had been a member for several years, was among the first to include clarinets among its forces. During the 1760s the instrument underwent a number of important modifications which improved its tonal flexibility and intonation. From this point on composers began to show a greater level of interest in writing for the instrument but it was the popularity of Carl Stamitz's concertos, coupled with the emergence of virtuoso exponents of the 'new' instrument, which seems to have turned the tide. During the period 1760-1771 not one single clarinet concerto was advertised for sale in the Breitkopf Catalogue, the largest and most important 18th century catalogue of printed and manuscript music. The first, a work by Starck, appeared in Supplement VII (1771) but then no further works appeared for nine years until three of Stamitz's concertos were listed in Supplement XIV (1781). Between 1782 and 1784, however, seven concertos appeared in Supplement XV alone comprising works by various composers were advertised the following year.
Stamitz's early experience of the clarinet was consolidated further through his friendship with the great Bohemian clarinet virtuoso Johann Joseph Beer (1744-1811) whom he met in Paris. Their professional association, similar in many ways to that of Mozart and Stadler, resulted not only in a number of joint performances at the Concerts spirituels but also in a succession of concertos and chamber works which were composed for Beer's use Beer's performance of one of Carl Stamitz's clarinet concertos on 24th December, 1771 is the first documented performance of a clarinet concerto in Paris. While Beer's unrivalled technical command of the five-keyed clarinet undoubtedly influenced the way in which Stamitz wrote for it, certain idiomatic devices such as exaggerated intervallic leaps and broken-chord passage work can be found in the works of pioneering figures such as Pokorny. Their overall musical quality, however, owes far less to the virtuosity of the solo writing than to Stamitz's elegant melodic style, structural subtlety and orchestral flair.
In 1938 Helmut Boese made a score of Concerto No. 7 in E flat major (in some numbering systems No. 8) based on a set of manuscript parts – the sole-surviving copy of the work – preserved in the Landesbibliothek in Darmstadt. This material was destroyed in 1945 but its role in the work's preservation is recognized in the nickname Darmstädter. On the basis of the work's orchestral treatment Boese postulated that it may have been written in the 1760s while Stamitz was a member of the Mannheim court orchestra. A number of things argue strongly against this including Stamitz's employment of mature classical phraseology and, not least the presence of a rondo finale which did not come into vogue until the early 1770s. But overall, the work simply does not sound like a 'pre-classical' concerto. Its broad symphonic writing is classical in conception and construction; the wind instruments are deployed with great skill and subtlety; and the orchestra is entrusted with important thematic material during the solo sections. An example of Stamitz's structural flexibility can be heard in the preparation for the recapitulation when he reintroduces the solo instrument in what it is otherwise a retransitional ritornello. It is a lovely touch and one which reinforces the previous unexpected use of new thematic material in the second solo. The opening of the Adagio is also striking with the clarinet holding a long, sustained note while the strings play the principal theme; this process is repeated and then the clarinet gently unfolds and develops the material over a beautifully transparent accompaniment. A perky Rondo follows whose pervasive good humour is only momentarily darkened during the minore episode.
As in the case of the previous work a copy of Concerto No. 8 in B flat major (No. 9) was also preserved in Darmstadt until the last year of the War, hence the nickname 2. Darmstädter. More importantly it was published in Paris by Sieber as the sixth of a group of six Stamitz clarinet concertos. Boese also believed that this concerto dated from the composer's Mannheim years but perhaps with a little more justification on this occasion. The symphonic writing in the opening movement is thoroughly modern but the orchestra is deployed in a rather less enterprising manner in the accompaniment of the solo instrument than in the E flat major Concerto. The second movement, too, has a rather old-fashioned cast to it both structurally and in terms of its musical syntax although the clarinet writing is expressive and idiomatic. While the choice of a Rondo finale is modern, the Tempo di minuetto marking is less so unless, of course, Stamitz was making a polite nod in the direction of his Parisian audiences. As one would expect, the episodes are more lightly scored than the rondo theme itself but in this instance the style of accompaniment is surprisingly thin, almost in the manner of the 'galant' concerto. This, along with a number of other structural elements in the first two movements, may be an indication that the work predates Concerto No. 7.
Concerto No. 11 in E flat major was not issued by Sieber and only one manuscript copy, preserved in the Thurn und Taxis Hofbibliothek in Regensburg, has come down to us. Like the earlier concertos on this recording the work opens with a broad, leisurely orchestral ritornello written in the best traditions of his Mannheim colleagues. Once again Stamitz reserves the later stages of the movement for structural experimentation. He introduces the second solo, analogous to the development section in a sonata movement, with new thematic material, clearly a favourite device as he does so in a number of his concertos. This material is deflected quietly into the minor and then allowed to unfold. Although the music modulates back to the tonic and thereafter behaves in a tonally orthodox fashion, Stamitz does not reintroduce the opening theme. This technique is quite common in the symphony but less so in the concerto of the period. The second movement is aptly titled Aria and indeed it is not only reminiscent of opera in its ravishing cantilena for the clarinet but also in its strophic-like structure. The accompaniment is sensitive and varied throughout and the inclusion of a pair of horns, used sparingly by Stamitz, adds a richness and intensity to the orchestral palette. The German musicologist Engels styled the finale Rondo alla Scherzo – a title also adopted by Newhill – although its original designation was Rondo alla Schas (i.e. Chasse). This jaunty hunting movement, which at times reminds one of Dittersdorf's Actaeon Symphony (Naxos 8.553368), includes a quotation of the old Prussian hunting call known as the Grosse Halali. Haydn uses fragments of the same call in the chorus Hört das laute Getön in his oratorio The Seasons.
Concerto No. 10 was advertised in the Breitkopf Catalogue in 1781 which probably indicates a composition date from the mid- to late-1770s. The work was not published in Stamitz's lifetime and only two manuscript copies of the work, preserved in Vienna and Prague, are known. Much of what has been written about the earlier concertos on this recording applies here. Stamitz's great lyric gifts are much in evidence, particularly in the fine second-movement Andante sostenuto, and there are exquisite details in the solo and orchestral writing, often undramatic and not immediately apparent, which betray the care and affection with which the work was written.
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STAMITZ, C.: Clarinet Concertos, Vol. 2