Text of the booklet "W.A.Mozart OBOENSPITZE, volume 3 / ALEXEI UTKIN / HERMITAGE ORCHESTRA"
The concertos are… a happy medium between what is too easy and too difficult. They are very brilliant and pleasing to the ear, but naturally without being vapid. There are passages here and there which only connoisseurs can appreciate, yet the less learned cannot fail to be pleased, without knowing why.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart formulated his understanding of the concerto in a letter from Vienna sent to his father on December 28th, 1782. By then he had composed about 20 concertos for various solo instruments and orchestra. In total Mozart wrote nearly fifty concertos, a figure that matches the number of symphonies. He began his mastery of the genre by reworking keyboard sonatas by other composers (KV 37, 39–41) in 1767, after returning to Salzburg from a three-year grand tour of European countries. His last concerto was KV 622 for clarinet and orchestra, which was completed in October 1791 just two months before his death.
The concerto for solo instruments with an orchestra had existed for half a century by the time Mozart was writing, moreover in the last third of the 18th century it was a genre particularly favoured by contemporary audiences. During this period instrumental music grew increasingly popular, with touring virtuoso performers becoming such a focus of public attention that they rivalled the celebrated opera singers of the day. Often such musicians provided their own repertoire – a tradition that lasted many years and whose influence was felt even in the 20th century. Mozart himself was an outstanding virtuoso pianist and it is therefore no surprise that most of his concertos are for keyboard and orchestra, composed in most cases for his own performances.
Mozart’s Concertone in C Major KV 190/166b is dated May 31st, 1774. Why he composed the piece is unknown and there is no record in his letters. The score is written for two solo violins, and we may assume the Concertone was intended for musicians from the Salzburg court orchestra. In Salzburg music with string solos was highly esteemed and the tone was set by Archbishop Colloredo, who himself played the violin. Probably it is no coincidence that Mozart wrote all the string concertos and concert symphonies between 1773 and 1780, when he was employed as concertmaster at the Salzburg court. During this time his father Leopold Mozart, Ferdinand Seidl (first concertmaster of the court orchestra) and Michael Haydn (second concertmaster) played the violin in the Kapelle. Eminent Italian violinist Antonio Brunetti, for whom Mozart wrote several compositions, also played with the orchestra in later years. Even among the dilettantes there were competent performers such as Johann Anton Kolb, city councillor and trade representative. Any of these, including Wolfgang himself, could have acted as soloist when the Concertone was performed.
In the original version of the Concertone the oboe quite frequently joins the solo violins, and from the second movement onwards the cello too, with both horns and trumpets included in the orchestra. The composition has been transcribed by Mikhail and Alexei Utkin for the present recording: the quartet of soloists is represented by two wind and two string instruments – flute, oboe, violin and cello, while the orchestra is limited to string instruments and harpsichord.
What exactly is meant by the genre ‘concertone’? In Italian the term is a synonym of ‘concerto grosso’, and the adjective ‘grosso’ or ‘large’ is identical in this instance to the augmentative suffix ‘one’. Yet despite the lexical similarity, the baroque concerto grosso and the concertone of the classical epoch have little in common. Most likely the word ‘concertone’ as used in Austria and northern Italy was largely analogous to the term ‘symphonie concertante’ in France and Germany. Both the concertone and symphonie concertante combine elements of the classical symphony and concerto: in the first Allegro written in sonata form the tutti sections alternate with fully developed episodes featuring solo instruments and cadenzas.
Evidently the Concertone was first played in one of the concerts at the Salzburg court. Mozart later returned to this opus. During his journey to Paris he wrote to his father on December 14th, 1777: ‘I played my Concertone on the clavier for Herr Wendling and he said it would be suitable for Paris.’ Johann Baptist Wendling was a flautist with the celebrated Mannheim orchestra and probably arranged for the performance of Mozart’s opus either in Mannheim, where such music was no less popular than in Salzburg, or in Paris, which Mozart was due to visit in the company of Wendling and the oboist Ramm. But his plans never came to fruition.
The Concertone is a superb illustration of Mozart’s concept of a concerto the composer intended for both connoisseurs and amateurs. Presumably the latter would find the energetic and joyful music of the opening Allegro to their taste, with loud tutti sections and islets of tender lyricism. Nor could they be indifferent to the elegant slow movement in the spirit of a pastoral Italian aria with ‘avian’ trills and expressive cantilena, and would surely be entertained by the fast minuetstyle finale. This composition is rendered ‘brilliant and pleasing to the ear’ by very effective cadenzas that let the soloists display their talent to the full.
Moreover, connoisseurs must pay tribute to the erudite contrapuntal devices that Mozart ingeniously introduced to the sonata Allegro form. Even the cadenza has its fair share of polyphony, and any astute judge would be impressed by the compositional mastery of the Andantino grazioso. Here the musical texture is at times so refined that it seems more appropriate for ensemble rather than symphonic writing.
The Clarinet Concerto KV 622 is one of Mozart’s later masterpieces, created for his friend the clarinettist Anton Stadler (1753–1812). Stadler was employed by Prince Dmitry Mikhailovich Golitsyn, Russian envoy in Vienna and one of Mozart’s patrons, before joining the Kaiserliche Harmonie wind ensemble at the Vienna Imperial court in 1783. Later, in 1787, he transferred to the Imperial court orchestra. Evidently Mozart first met him in 1784, and possibly the composer wrote his Serenade Gran Partita KV 361/370a for Stadler’s concert held in the Burgtheater on March 23rd. A week later on April 1st the magnificent new Quintet for Piano and Winds KV 452 was performed at Mozart’s own concert, and in all probability Stadler played the clarinet. Indeed, the famous Clarinet Quintet in A Major KV 581 (1789) had been composed for him. Mozart and Stadler were also brought together by membership of a Masonic lodge, and they indulged in informal music-making at every opportunity.
According to their contemporaries Stadler’s playing was distinguished by exceptional expressiveness, beauty of tone and technical mastery. After his concert on March 23rd 1784 the music critic J.F. Schink wrote admiringly: ‘I thank you, great virtuoso! Never before did I hear such music for this instrument. Nor could I have ever imagined that the clarinet can imitate the human voice as perfectly as you have shown. Your instrument has such a tender and exquisite tone that no heart could resist, and I have a heart, dear virtuoso. My sincere thanks!’
Like the majority of Mozart’s later works, the Concerto KV 622 conveys a sense of ideal and sublime harmony while still retaining warmth and sincerity of expression. In the first movement joy, light and grace reign supreme. Only the delicate melodious replicas of the clarinet introduce a hint of chiaroscuro to the scene. ‘Innocent love, contentment… hope for a meeting with the beloved after separation, youthful cheer and belief in God’ – Christian Friedrich Daniel Schubart’s description of the A major key at some time between 1784 and 1785 precisely conveys the mood of Mozart’s Allegro. It is akin to two other Mozart compositions written in the same key: the Keyboard Concerto KV 488 (1786), and the Clarinet Quintet already mentioned. Even their opening themes bear an obvious resemblance.
The slow movement of the concerto, an Adagio in D major, is reminiscent of the famous D major motet Ave Verum Corpus, which Mozart had written four months earlier. Bright, transparent canonic sequences sound particularly similar. ‘Seraphic beauty’ and ‘imperceptible polyphony’ – characteristics Einstein attributed to the motet – are also appropriate in describing this superb Adagio. The serenity of the final Rondo reminds of the first movement of the concerto.
The clarinet reveals its true brilliance and splendour in the concerto. Striking contrasts of register, the depth and expressiveness of low notes and luminescence of the high notes, purity of tone in the cantilena, intricate passages – all these qualities are rendered here with such generosity and on such a vast scale that we can only conclude Stadler was one of the most exceptional musicians of his age.
We already know that Stadler’s clarinet had technical modifications. An attachment on the lower part of the bore lowered the range of the instrument to small-octave C, as compared to the lowest (written) note of E in a standard clarinet. In the 20th century Stadler’s instrument came to be known as the ‘basset clarinet’. During Mozart’s time it was rarely encountered and considered rather exotic, before later disappearing altogether. Nevertheless the composer wrote his Clarinet Concerto with Stadler’s modified clarinet in mind. The solo part (the original form has been reconstructed) contains a series of low sounds that are impossible to produce on an ordinary instrument, for which they require transposition to a higher octave. Similar adaptations are also required in Sextus’s aria from La Clemenza di Tito, which Stadler also played at the opera premiere in 1791.
Alexei Utkin performs the clarinet part of Concerto KV 622 on an oboe d’amore. This transcription does not contradict 18th-century practice. We know that Mozart himself originally devised his concert for the bassethorn, another type of clarinet with lower pitch and a soft, muted timbre. A draft of this version has survived and the material was used for the first movement of the Concerto. The composer is known to have substituted one instrument for another even before this. Concerto KV 314/285d exists in two versions, for example. In the Salzburg composition of 1777 Mozart calls it a Concerto for Oboe and Orchestra, but early the next year it is referred to as a Flute Concerto.
The instrumental concerto occupies an important place in Mozart’s work, appearing at a significant moment in musical history. The epoch when musicians could not conceive of employment outside the court or church was replaced by a period when virtuoso soloists depended on their own talents and organised their own professional activities. Mozart was among them. His concertos were so diverse and rich in compositional ideas that for the next centenary they served as a basis for developing this genre of European music.
Irina Susidko, translated by Patricia Donegan
Text of the booklet "W.A.Mozart OBOENSPITZE, volume 3 / ALEXEI UTKIN / HERMITAGE ORCHESTRA"