Classical Music #16: Clarinet Concerto in A by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) - The Book of Ramblings — LiveJournal
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Wed, Jul. 11th, 2012 03:29 pm
Classical Music #16: Clarinet Concerto in A by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Mozart_drawing_Doris_Stock_1789Mozart. We all know Mozart right? Boy genius who was writing compositions practically from birth, those works coming fully formed out of his head and onto the paper. Perpetual child in a man's body. Other composers were so jealous that they attempted to murder him. Father was somewhat abusive and pushed his child too far and never gave him a proper education. We all know the "facts" right? Except...I don't think most of us actually DO. Most things we "know" about Mozart are likely untrue or at the very least twisted so that they almost don't resemble the truth.

A few common myths:

1. Mozart dyed of poisoning. Alternately, Mozart died from an excess of alcohol and overwork. Reality? Mozart likely died because he had rheumatic fever and the common procedure during his time was to use leaches to let out blood. This further weakened him and he ultimately died. Recent research has also suggested strep throat in the place of rheumatic fever. The reality is really so much more mundane isn't it?

2. Mozart was buried in an unmarked pauper's (or mass) grave. Reality? Well, it's somewhat true. The falsity in this one comes about because people attribute this to Mozart's having been incredibly poor. But this was common practice during the time. Emperor Joseph II had abolished all the pomp and circumstance of funerals.

3. Mozart didn't work at composing and he everything he wrote down was perfect the first time. Reality? Mozart tended to sketch out his ideas and then compose the entire piece. He DID have much of it up in his head, but he liked to sketch it out so he wouldn't forget those ideas and then could go back and fill it all in. There are very few Mozart sketches left; his wife destroyed many of them. This idea of Mozart as writing with 100% inspiration and never having to work his way through a piece came about in the 19th century with a fake letter someone created to back up his story about Mozart.

Mozart WAS eccentric (aren't all the greats after all?) and may have suffered from some sort of bipolar disorder (when he was "up" he was jumping over billiard tables, meowing at the cat, and doing other crazy things; when he was down he was writing some of his most heart-wrenching music). He did have a rather disgusting sense of humor and many of his letters are littered with scatological humor. And seriously...on the latter? Here's an awesome verse from one of his letters to a cousin (the original German even rhymed):

Well, I wish you good night
But first shit into your bed and make it burst.
Sleep soundly, my love
Into your mouth your arse you'll shove.

Did you know that about Mozart?

Anyway, I don't think most of us REALLY know Mozart. He's a fascinating figure, not just for his life and work, but for the myths and legends that have grown up around him.

One of his most famous and most-loved works is his Clarinet Concerto. Now here's the truly interesting thing about this work. Not many of us have ever heard the work as it was originally written. Evidence showed that it was first conceived of as a work for the Basset Horn in G, a lower member of the clarinet family that is no longer in use, but that Anton Stadler (the person the Concerto was written for) was known to be a virtuoso on. However, the final published version was written up in A. With a twist (you knew it couldn't be that easy right?). Some of the clarinet's line goes down to low C, when the Clarinet only goes down to E. So what on earth...? Well, it's likely the piece was written for the Basset Clarinet, an instrument that looks remarkably similar to the A Clarinet but has the capability to go down to the low C. It's long. REALLY long. I couldn't find a picture of it standing next to a regular A clarinet, but here's a photo of Kenneth Grant (of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra) holding one. Just look at the bottom of that instrument!

I remember when I was in high school wanting to play this work and looking at it, thinking "Wow that's easy." My instructor refused to let me touch it. Technically it is not the most demanding work (though it becomes more so when played on the original larger instrument!) but getting the right emotional subtlety takes much more maturity than I had when I was a teenager. It took me many years to realize that.

Here is Martin Frost performing part of the first movement on the Basset Clarinet.

You can listen to the work here (this recording also features the Basset Clarinet, but is audio only):

I. Allegro (Please note that this particular recording drops out the opening section which features just the orchestra.)
II. Adagio
III. Rondo



Wed, Jul. 11th, 2012 07:55 pm (UTC)

have you read the book was mozart poisoned? it covers popular myths about classical musicians and composers. it is fantastic. and it also has that same joke in there. i got in so much trouble for bringing it into german class in high school as an example of german poetry until i mentioned motzart wrote it. lol.

i love that piece. i could hear it in my head as soon as i saw the title.

Wed, Jul. 11th, 2012 07:58 pm (UTC)

I've read bits and pieces of it and I really need to sit down and read the whole thing. There are tons of myths about a lot of composers but I think Mozart myths really take the cake. And what's amazing is that they're TAUGHT to us in school. I had no idea of any of this until I started reading up on it awhile back. But even in college I was taught a lot of these myths and fully believed them!

ReplyThread Parent
Wed, Jul. 11th, 2012 08:52 pm (UTC)

that book was the one that got me really looking into the real lives of musicians and composers and separating myth from fact. i love doing reading like that. another good one is olympia, paris in the age of manet, which is, granted, more art focused, but does touch on music of the time. you might enjoy it.

i am loving your 100 things posts. i need to think of one. i was debating gems, but art would be fun. i don't know. i might go with precious and semi precious gems- some from my own collection.

ReplyThread Parent
Wed, Jul. 11th, 2012 08:54 pm (UTC)

Any and all of that sounds fascinating! I'm enjoying making these posts. I need to catch up to the 100 photos of Dahlia (I have 25 of those so far!) so I've been letting that one go by the wayside while I try to play the catchup game.

ReplyThread Parent
Thu, Jul. 12th, 2012 06:51 am (UTC)

Thank you for posting this! It was incredibly interesting.

Thu, Jul. 12th, 2012 03:20 pm (UTC)

Yooooou need to watch Mozart L'opera Rock :)

Edited at 2012-07-12 03:20 pm (UTC)