We are so familiar with the warm and expressive tone of the clarinet and with its presence among the woodwinds of the orchestra that it may come as a surprise to realize that it is, in fact, one of the youngest members of the classical orchestra. It had, of course, a venerable ancestor in the chalumeau, a much older wind instrument, from which the clarinet borrowed the name of its own low register; but the classical clarinet entered firmly the orchestra ranks only in the eighteenth century, and did not possess a chamber music or solo literature of its own until the last decades of the century.
One of the good fortunes of the instruments was to possess a timbre which captivated the ears of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who was quick to adopt its sound in many of his orchestral works, and even to rearrange some of his earlier compositions in order to find a space for its fascinating sound. Another of the clarinet’s blessings was Mozart’s meeting with Anton Stadler. Together with his brother Johann, Stadler was a member of the Emperor’s Harmonie (a wind band) and, since 1787, of the court orchestra. Mozart and Stadler were also fellow members of the freemasonry, and from their friendship flowed some of the finest works ever written for the clarinet. Both Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet KV581 and his Clarinet Concerto KV622 date from the last years of the composer’s lifetime, when he was particularly active as a freelance composer in Vienna, notably in the field of operatic music. Opera was, indeed, Mozart’s first and foremost love, and the musical qualities of his clarinet compositions seem to suggest that he conceived of this instrument as of a human voice of exceptional range and flexibility.
The clarinet is called, in fact, to showcase both its singing and cantabile qualities, and its potential for virtuoso coloratura; the close cooperation between Stadler and Mozart is revealed by the absolute mastery of the instrument’s technical features and by the adroit exploitation of its musical resources. By experimenting with Stadler, Mozart was able to develop an entirely new language for the relatively young instrument; similarly, Stadler himself was interested in technical innovations in instrument-building, and was particularly fond of a subspecies in the clarinet family, the “basset clarinet”, for which both of Mozart’s masterpieces were originally written. The basset clarinet had a lower range than its better-known counterpart, and its mellow tone undoubtedly conquered the composer’s fantasy.
Notwithstanding many evident similarities between the Quintet and the later Concerto, Mozart consciously adopted a very contrasting style for the two pieces. The Quintet is a true and masterly example of chamber music, whereby the clarinet is, at the same time, integrated within the distinctive sound of the string quartet and surrounded by it so as to reveal its most individual qualities. The string quartet, moreover, does not always act as a single being, as if a “bowed piano” would accompany a solo clarinet: instead, the individual string instruments take in turn the centre of the stage (as, for example, in the beautiful “viola” variation in the minor mode, in the last movement), sometimes in combination with the clarinet (as in the duet-like passages with the first violin in the second movement), sometimes affirming their complicity to the point of silencing the wind instrument (as happens in the first Trio of the third movement, the Menuet).
Mozart’s Quintet, which can be considered as the first masterly clarinet quintet in history, has none of the negative sides of an “experimental” work, being a fully mature and ripe masterpiece; nevertheless, it does possess all the positive aspect of experimentalism, including a freedom to explore new formal solutions even in the piece’s structure, and not only in those compositional features which are more strictly connected with the use of a new instrument or a new combination of instruments. For example, it is unusual for a Menuet to include two trios, as happens here, or for a Finale to be in the form of theme with variations. In the hands of such an experienced composer as Mozart, these experiments become as many exciting possibilities: it can be said that this Finale is in fact Mozart’s most perfect example of theme with variations. As concerns timbral exploration, instead, one of the most enchanting moments of the piece is its second movement, where a melody of unsurpassed beauty, intoned by the clarinet, is framed by the unearthly sound of the muted strings. Here the influence of the operatic language is clearly discernible, even though there is nothing “theatrical” in this piece: it is opera as the beautified and formalized outpouring of the most deeply intense, profound and sincere feelings of the human beings.
Even though the carefully crafted and continuous dialogue among the instruments qualifies this Quintet as a perfect example of “chamber” music, this did not prevent it from being successfully performed in public only a few months after its completion (September 29th, 1789), during a charity concert of the Tonkünstlerverein in Vienna a few days before Christmas, on December 22nd. The performance took place as an interlude between the two halves of a cantata by Vincenzo Righini, and, of course, the clarinet player was Stadler himself. In fact, Mozart sometimes referred to the piece as “Stadler’s Quintet”, so close was the connection between the performer who inspired the composer and the finished work.
Exactly in the same fashion, the Clarinet Quintet by Carl Maria von Weber was sometimes nicknamed “Baermann Quintet”, in homage to the clarinetist Heinrich Baermann for whom it was composed. Weber would later become one of the most successful German operatic composers in the early Romantic era: in fact, his stage works are highly indebted to Mozart’s own German operas, and particularly to the enchanted world of the Magic Flute; moreover, Weber had studied with Michael Haydn (brother of the better known Franz Joseph), who had been a close friend and cooperator of both Wolfgang and Leopold Mozart in Salzburg. There is, therefore, an almost direct artistic lineage connecting Mozart with Weber; however, in the short space of a quarter of a century, many things had changed. Weber’s Clarinet Quintet, in fact, was completed in 1815 (though the first three movements were presented to Baermann for his birthday already in 1813); the musical language, the aesthetic values and the musical scene had undergone dramatic shifts in the meanwhile, and the two works in this Da Vinci CD faithfully mirror this evolution.
The clarinet had affirmed itself as one of the protagonists in the orchestra, and had conquered a significant space also in chamber music and as a soloist. In fact, Heinrich Baermann was a touring concert musician, who sometimes could not find passable orchestras to accompany his solo concertos when he arrived in the minor centres. Thus, different from Mozart’s Quintet, Weber’s has the features of a solo concerto with miniaturized accompaniment. Here, the string quartet is less precisely characterized than in Mozart, and it has fewer occasions for displaying its own idiosyncratic qualities. On the other hand, Weber impressively succeeds in sacrificing none of the spectacular aspects of the solo/tutti opposition which characterizes a successful Concerto, and in building a piece full of variety and fantasy notwithstanding the greater homogeneity of the quartet’s sound when compared to an orchestra.
As in the case with Stadler and Mozart, also for Weber the
friendship with Baermann was crucial both for prompting the creation of the piece and for encouraging the exploration of the instrument’s full potential. Baermann was a great virtuoso, who was particularly celebrated for his smoothness in performing chromatic scales (which are, in fact, frequently found in Weber’s work); similar to Stadler, moreover, Baermann was not simply content with what the market offered him, but actively sought the latest novelties in instrument making, being justifiably proud of his 10-keyed instrument by Griesling and Schlott. From the cooperation between Baermann and Weber arose some of the benchmarks in the clarinet Romantic literature, such as the Concertino op. 26 and the two Concertos op. 73 and 74 (1811). The experience matured in these works proved very useful for the “Grand Quintet” op. 34: Weber offers the soloist the possibility of showcasing both his skill and the technical improvements in his instrument, from the very outset of the piece (where the high B flat seems to blossom from the introductory chords of the strings) to the Menuetto, where new fingering possibilities are fully exploited, to the brilliant and galvanizing passageworks and coloraturas of the Rondo.
Similar to Mozart, however, neither the technical virtuosity nor the prevailing luminous musical atmosphere prevent the composer from employing the full emotional range of the instrument’s capabilities and of the performer’s talent: in the words of a contemporaneous review, Baermann had an extraordinary tone-colour, “which has not the slightest strain or shrillness in it, both of which are so common among clarinetists”. Thus, in Weber as in Mozart, the clarinet is frequently treated as a human voice, and its darker sounds effectively contrast with the otherwise serene or vivacious mood of both works.
Taken together, as in this Da Vinci CD, these two very different and yet very connected masterpieces provide a fascinating overview on the differences and similarities between Classicism and Romanticism, between chamber and solo music, between a serene dialogue among peers and the excitement of the soloist’s heroism; they also bear witness to the power of friendship, which not only is one of the most beautiful human experiences, but also can prompt the creation of such extraordinary masterpieces as those featured in this compilation.
Album Notes by Chiara Bertoglio
Domenico Calia (Clarinet): Domenico Calia is a polyhedral performer with a great repertoire ranging from classical music to modern and contemporary one, expert of the most innovative instrumental techniques. He was born in 1985 and as a child he studied clarinet. Under the guide of M° Vittorio Luna, he graduated at the Conservatory V. Bellini of Caltanissetta. When he was eighteen years old, he face the professional world by performing the Mozart’s Gran Partita with the Istituzione Sinfonica Abruzzese so gaining many prizes at the 3° Concorso Nazionale Città di Balestrate, 7° Concorso Nazionale Giovani Musicisti Città di Caccamo, 1° Rassegna Nazionale di Musica Città di Balestrate, 2° Concorso Nazionale di Musica (Premio Mauro Patti) Città di Gangi, 1° Premio al Concorso Musicale Internazionale Carlo Agresti – Grancia Certosina di Salerno. He specialized with Giuseppe Garbarino, Vincenzo Paci, Angel Jean Cino, Massimo Scorretti, Italo Capicchioni, Cristian Chiodi Latini, Antonino Lampasona and Crescenzo Langella. He took part, as firt clarinet, to the International Seminar of Orchestral Formation of the Estate Musicale Frentana, from 2002 to 2005. He has been invited in many conservatories and festivals as jury commissioner, soloist and teacher, giving many masterclasses of high specialization. He has performed together with artists such as Marco Pierobon, Milva, Andrea Noferini, Nina Beilina, Ettore Pellegrini and with conductors like Donato Renzetti, Vlad, Massimiliano Caldi, Daniel Agiman, Rafail Pylarinos, Angelo Sormani, and many others. He has collaborated with Istituzione Sinfonica Abruzzese, Teatro Massimo (Palermo), Orchestra Alessandro Manzoni (Milan), Multipromo Opera Festival (Florence). He has done many recordings among which his appreciated debut album “Works for Contemporary Clarinet” (Da Vinci Classics, 2017), where he shows his virtuosity and interpretative ability and that has received the total approval of the critics and the 5 stars by the magazine Musica (Roberto Zecchini) and by Musicvoice.it (Andrea Bedetti). His “Flowers of Contemporary Clarinet” (Da Vinci Classics, 2018) has highlighted some gems by some Italian living composers. He is the artistic director of Da Vinci Association and of Clarinettando Italia Festival.
Elena Ianina Puscasu: She began her violin studies at 6 years old and she graduated from Romania(Iasi) in 2005. She studied with great names like G.Markos, J.Kussmaul, D. Rossi, D. Zaltron, A. Farulli and others. She collaborates with the most famous Italian orchestras and she performs all over Europe.
Gianfranco Messina took degrees in Keyboard, Violin, Composition and other in Milan. In this city his musics were executed in Palazzina Liberty, Villa Litta, Filodrammatici Theater, Circolo Ufficiali for Lions Club Milano and with the patronage of Expo2015. His studies are about new prospectives and colours in neotonal music.
Luca Russo Rossi: Born in Bari in 1985, he completed his studies of cello at the Conservatory of Music “N. Piccinni”. He obtained chamber music diploma at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in 2012. Collaborator in several Italian orchestras , he currently plays the role of artistic director of the string orchestra "I Virtuosi Lombardi" and also Professor of violoncello and piano.
Michela Pastafiglia: Graduate at the Ferrara Conservatory in 2013 in Violin Masters and Didactics in 2015 at Bologna. Advanced course with: Mariana Sirbu, Alessandro Perpich, Danusha Waskiewicz and Francesco Manara; performs chamber and orchestra concerts throughout Italy, Spain, Switzerland, China and South Corea.
The “Quartetto d’archi di Milano“ is the result of a common artistic project. Every composer came from the Teatro della Scala’s orchestra and from the other important Italian and foreign orchestras. The Quartet played, after a long and important performing with a lot of success, the Giuseppe Verdi’s Quartet and other importants string quartets. In the summer of 2010 with few musicians of “Scala Theatre” played at the International Festival in Dubrovnik and recorded, for the National Japanese Television, Beethoven’s Quartett op.18 n 4. Musicians play “historical” instruments created by artists like Testore, Carcassi, Pollastri and Marchetti.
(b Eutin, ?19 Nov 1786; d London, 5 June 1826). Composer, conductor, pianist and critic, son of Franz Anton Weber. A prototypical 19th-century musician-critic, he sought through his works, words and efforts as performer and conductor to promote art and shape emerging middle-class audiences to its appreciation. His contributions to song, choral music and piano music were highly esteemed by his contemporaries, his opera overtures influenced the development of the concert overture and symphonic poem, and his explorations of novel timbres and orchestrations enriched the palette of musical sonorities. With the overwhelming success of his opera Der Freischütz in 1821 he became the leading exponent of German opera in the 1820s and an international celebrity. A seminal figure of the 19th century, he influenced composers as diverse as Marschner, Mendelssohn, Wagner, Meyerbeer, Berlioz and Liszt.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: (b Salzburg, 27 Jan 1756; d Vienna, 5 Dec 1791). Austrian composer, son of Leopold Mozart. His style essentially represents a synthesis of many different elements, which coalesced in his Viennese years, from 1781 on, into an idiom now regarded as a peak of Viennese Classicism. The mature music, distinguished by its melodic beauty, its formal elegance and its richness of harmony and texture, is deeply coloured by Italian opera though also rooted in Austrian and south German instrumental traditions. Unlike Haydn, his senior by 24 years, and Beethoven, his junior by 15, he excelled in every medium current in his time. He may thus be regarded as the most universal composer in the history of Western music.