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Top 5 clarinet concertos

Clarinet Concerto soloist JoŽ Christophe
Clarinet Concerto soloist JoŽ Christophe

If youíre a clarinetist then, well, congratulations! You've chosen one of the the most versatile and beautiful instruments in the orchestra (or wind band, jazz band, chamber groupóit certainly gets around). It is also an instrument with a boatload of great repertoire, from classical through to jazz and klezmer. At the pinnacle of this repertoire lies the concerto, solo works with orchestra designed to highlight the instrumentís best characteristics and the technical abilities of their players. The clarinet has some great ones to choose fromóhere are our best five.

Mozart - Clarinet Concerto in A K.622

The clarinet was a relatively new instrument during Mozartís lifetime (see our article on the history of the clarinet ). Luckily for clarinetists, Mozart loved it, writing some great chamber music (such as the Clarinet Quintet K.581 and Kegelstaat Trio K.498 ) and helping to establish it as a regular member of the orchestra. He also wrote one of the instrumentís finest solo works, the Clarinet Concerto K.622.

Completed just weeks before the composerís death in 1791, it is a work of mature perfection, perfectly demonstrating the emotional and technical range of the instrument. The outer movements are lively and technically tricky, the first a sonata allegro, the last a joyful rondo in 6/8. The emotional heart of the concerto, however, is the sublime slow movement containing one of Mozartís greatest melodies (check out our easy version of it).

Carl Stamitz - Clarinet Concerto No. 3 in Bb Major

Carl Stamitz was a German contemporary of Mozart, born 11 years before him in 1745 and outliving him by 5 years, dying in 1801. Though not considered as great a composer as Mozart he made an outstanding contribution to the history of the clarinet, writing some 11 concertos for the it, in the process helping to establish the instrumentís solo potential.

Of these works the best is the Concerto No. 3 in Bb Major. Written in a similar pattern to Mozartís it has an opening sonata allegro and a catchy final rondo. The slow movement, again the heart of the work, in Stamitzís case emphasises delicate simplicity, the effect more naive than Mozart, but affecting nevertheless.

Carl Maria von Weber - Clarinet Concerto No. 1 in F minor, Op. 73

A near contemporary of Beethoven, Carl Maria von Weber lived from 1786Ė1826. Known largely for his operas, he also wrote several fine solo works for clarinet, the Concertino in E♭ Major and Clarinet Concerto No. 1, Op. 73 and No.2, Op. 74 .

Of the concertos the first, written in 1811, is considered not just his finest, but also one of the most important in the instrumentís repertoire. It is sometimes reminiscent of Mozartís concerto, perhaps not surprisingly given he was the great manís cousin by marriage. This is particularly true of the transportingly sublime second movement and the playful last movement. But there are also innovations that point more to the income of romanticism, especially in the darkly dramatic opening movement.

Carl Nielsen - Clarinet Concerto Concerto, Op. 57

Danish composer Carl Nielsen (1865Ė31) wrote his concerto towards the end of his life, in 1928. It was a turbulent time for him, on the one hand being disappointed that his music had not achieved the success he had hoped for outside Scandinavia and on the other because of his preoccupation with the unsettled state of the world.

This is reflected in the the workís emotional intensity, use of conflicting tonalities, choice of instrumentation and the challenging demands it makes on the soloist. Its structure is innovative, being conceived in one long span, though with internal divisions suggestive of a four movement symphony. It makes use of dissonant and unconventional harmonies, with a conflict throughout the work between two keys separated by a tritone, F and E major. This sense of conflict is enhanced by the constant presence of the martial sounds of a snare drum.

Aside from its technical difficulties, the expressive range of the work, which contains frequent changes of mood, makes this a challenging, albeit supremely satisfying work for both soloist and audience.

Gerald Finzi - Clarinet Concerto Op.21

Though British composer Gerald Finzi (1901Ė1956) is especially well-known for his choral music his Concerto for Clarinet is considered a masterpiece of the genre. It is his most performed and recorded instrumental work.

Written for strings and solo clarinet, its shape is more classical in structure than that of Nielsen, being conceived in three movements with a central Adagio and a final Rondo. Its language, however, is very much twentieth century, with sometimes astringent harmonies and angular melodies, though never so far as to prevent it being eminently tuneful. It also feels somehow quintessentially English, especially in its pastoral quality that seems to connect the work to the composerís natural surroundings.