Further to last week’s post on taking a historical approach to the sound of the clarinet, I’ve decided to put together a little series on the blog. Since I’m rather keen on clarinetist/composer collaborations, it would only be right to recognise the long, productive and rather awesome history of these relationships within the clarinet repertoire. So to start us off, the most famous of these relationships, that between Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Anton Stadler. This is surely not the most comprehensive history you’ll find, but rather a short set of notes with lots of references to some of the great literature on the subject.
Mozart became familiar with the clarinet as early as 1764, through copying C.F. Abel’s Symphony op.7 no.6, but didn’t use them until 1771 in his Divertimento K113, composed in Milan. The parts for this are quite simple, suiting the technical abilities of the orchestral players of the time, who would have most likely had five-key instruments (Page 2010).
His greatest works for clarinet were not written until 1773, the earliest date that Anton Stadler was known to be in Vienna. It was fortuitous that he would meet such a virtuoso, that their relationship should be such an amiable one and that Stadler would be so fascinated by his instrument that he would strive to improve it with the aid of an instrument maker, Theodor Lotz. The dating on the autograph sketch of Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto does suggest that it was their collaboration specifically that encouraged Stadler to develop the basset clarinet further (Lawson 2008). Also worth noting is how well documented the collaboration between Mozart and Stadler is, especially when with some of the other concertos – those written for bassoon specifically – there is no reliable data to even point towards who might have commissioned them (Waterhouse 2010).
Lawson (1987) writes that while the clarinet parts of Beethoven and Haydn recognized the limitations of the instrument, the collaboration between Stadler and Mozart pushed these limits, and this partnership ‘must be seen as wholly exceptional for its date.’ (489) This collaboration started after Mozart refused to write a concerto for Josef Beer, a clarinettist of international reputation for whom Carl Stamitz’ eleven clarinet concertos had already been written and who had also composed a number of works for clarinet himself (Rice 2007).
‘As for the letter of recommendation to Herr Beer, I don’t think it is necessary to send it to me: so far I have not made his acquaintance: I only know that he is an excellent clarinet player, but in other respects a dissolute sort of fellow. I really do not like to associate with such people, as it does one no credit; and, frankly, I should not like to give him a letter of recommendation —indeed I should feel positively ashamed to do so—even if he should do something for me! But, as it is, he is by no means respected here—and a great many people do not know him at all. Of the two Stamitz brothers only the younger one is here, the elder (the real composer a la Hageneder) is in London. They indeed are two wretched scribblers, gamblers, swillers and adulterers—not the kind of people for me. The one who is here has scarcely a decent coat to his back.’ (Weston 2002, qtd. 34)
While working with Beer would have been beneficial for Mozart’s reputation, he regarded Beer’s reputation as ‘dissolute’ (Lawson 2008). Mozart’s attraction to Stadler, then, presumably, was not solely based on his skill as an instrumentalist, but on his personality and their mutual friendship and respect for each other. While perhaps it is presumptuous to assume that there was a relationship mutually respectful between the Mozart and Stadler – the clarinettist borrowed a great deal of money from Mozart, which he never repaid (Weston 2002) — it is the longevity and the productiveness of their relationship that is of particular interest.
It is relatively clear that the two men were jovial with each other, as demonstrated by Mozart’s remark after Stadler asked him to change a few difficult passages on his instrument: ‘‘Have you the notes on your instrument?’ ‘Certainly they are on it.’ ‘Provided they exist it is your concern to produce them.’10 (Lawson 1987; 500) No doubt, when Stadler became a freemason in 1785, just a year after Mozart had joined, the friendship between them was firmly cemented (Weston 2002). Mozart’s sense of humour, especially as concerned his relationship with collaborators, is documented: the case of his relationship with the horn player, Leutgeb, is a famous one. Mozart played a regular trick on Leutgeb, scoring different parts of the solo parts of his horn concertos in different colours of ink (Leavis 1953).
The collaboration between Mozart and Stadler was also based on a long-term commitment: prior to working on the Concerto, Stadler performed the two obbligato numbers from Mozart’s opera, La Clemenza di Tito, which ‘offer a final glimpse of Stadler’s favourite techniques immediately prior to the Clarinet Concerto. The solo writing for Bb basset clarinet and for basset horn incorporates slow, lyrical melody, chromatic passages, a wide variety of arpeggiated patterns and different dramatic contexts.’ (Lawson 2008; 33) The music for La Clemenza exploits Stadler’s ‘versatility without the extremes of virtuosity in the concerto.’ (Lawson 1987; 493)
Lawson, C. (1987) The Basset Clarinet Revived. Early Music 15(4) 487-501
Lawson, C. (2008) Mozart: Clarinet Concerto. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Page, J.K., et al. (accessed 21 Feb 2010) “Clarinet.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online.
Rice, A. (2003) The Clarinet in the Classical Period. OUP USA
Waterhouse, W. “Bassoon.” In Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/02276 (accessed May 30, 2010)
Weston, Pamela. (2002) Clarinet Virtuosi of the Past. UK: Emerson Edition