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Evan Sponseller
Dr. Geeting
History of Music
19 March 2010
Weber’s Clarinet Concertino and the Romantic Virtuoso
Clarinet Concertino in C minor/E flat major
Composed: 1811
Length: 10:00
Orchestration: flute, 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, strings
Premiere Performance: April 5th, 1811
Carl Maria von Weber is remembered as an important composer of the Romantic
period not because of his concertos (or concertino) for clarinet, piano, or bassoon, but
rather his tireless efforts at raising German opera to the level of Italian opera in the eyes
of both artist and consumer, with works such as Der Freischütz and as resident conductor
in various German cities. Though his work with opera is of utmost significance
historically, culturally, and musically, his Clarinet Concertino in E flat major is our focus
here: how it came about circumstantially, its impact on Weber’s subsequent
compositions, the role it played in the development of the clarinet as an instrument and
virtuosic clarinet players (specifically Neinrich Bärmann), and the music itself.
The story of the clarinet through time is an interesting one; from its likely origin
around 1700 at the hands of Johann Christoph Denner of Nuremberg, to its prominence
today as one of the brightest stars in the orchestral universe. It is said of Mozart’s clarinet
writing towards the end of the 18th century for the virtuoso Anton Stadler, that “from then
on the clarinet was expected to be equally beautiful and fluent over the whole of its wide
range” (Page). Mozart’s awareness of the true potential of the instrument, and Stadler’s
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ability to expertly perform the music written for him, has undoubtedly had a huge impact
on the development of the clarinet.
A few years later, a “school of virtuosos” (Warrack, P. 119) came to prominence
that included – along with Stadler – Joseph Beer, Johann Simon Hermstedt, and Neinrich
Bärmann, each with an important relationship to a major composer or two of the time.
These relationships became increasingly important, as composer and player would help
each other to reach higher levels of reputation in the musical world. One would write in
order for the other to show off their prodigious skill, and the other would perform at the
highest level of artistry to reciprocate. This period was also especially important for the
technological advances that were being made in clarinet construction. When Bärmann
premiered Weber’s Concertino, he was then playing on a ten key clarinet. The next year,
Hermstedt performed Louis Spohr’s first clarinet concerto on a clarinet with 13 keys
Though his earlier compositional work may be overshadowed in history by his
later triumphs in opera, Weber’s work with Bärmann, the star clarinetist of the Mannheim
orchestra, is of utmost importance in the context of his own life as well as the life of the
clarinet. “In Bärmann’s clarinet Weber found an instrument that with its French
incisiveness and vivacity and its German fullness seemed to express a new world of
feeling, and to match both the dark romantic melancholy and the extrovert brilliance of
his own temperament” (Warrack, P. 118). Seeing as they would go on to collaborate on
multiple other occasions to great success, the respect and trust shared between these two
men, and the significant musical outcome of such a relationship cannot be overlooked.
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Weber and Bärmann initially met when Weber first came to Mannheim to work
with music director, Peter Winter, in hopes of having a few of his operas produced
(Warrack, P. 117). After hearing Weber’s Clarinet Concertino at its premiere, King
Maximilian II of Bavaria ordered the two, full-length concertos. By this point in history,
the clarinet was staking its claim as, not only one of the more important woodwinds, but
also one of the more dynamic and vital instruments of the entire orchestral palette. In his
Weber biography, John Warrack cites a letter that Weber wrote to his friend (not brother)
Gottfied Weber, which read, “Since I composed the Concertino for Bärmann the whole
orchestra has been the very devil about demanding concertos from me…” (Warrack, P.
The music of the Concertino is indeed concertino-like in manner, and the form
generously aids the display of its soloist gestures. Weber is said to have “come to
grips…with a sonata first movement” later for the two full-length Concertos, but for the
Concertino, he held to a simple theme and variations structure (Warrack, P. 118). This
form helped Weber in displaying the soloist’s considerable talent by allowing him to first
present thematic material in a simple and beautiful line, and later to expand on the
material in virtuosic passages. The piece relatively short, but still contains plenty of
phrases for a skilled player to display their talent. The first and third movements are right
around two minutes long and the second is just under five. Throughout, the clarinet line is
filled with idiomatic gestures such as large leaps, trills, wide dynamic range, and rapid
16th and 32nd note passages. Though the agility and speed of any performer of this piece
is naturally commendable (especially in measures 17-32 of the allegro), the most
effective use of the instrument and the skill of its player are in the tone quality and
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emotional power during the lento of the second movement. The delicate hairpins, extralarge skips, and pianissimo dynamic in the lowest range are defining attributes of the
instrument and ones that only a great clarinetist can perform well. It is also of note that
these defining attributes would have been much more difficult if not impossible, without
the previously discussed advancement of clarinet technology.
Though he had composed plenty, and with much success, in his years previous to
working with Bärmann, the Concertino and subsequent Concertos helped to pave the way
for Weber to become an internationally known musician. His compositions and musical
renown from that point on did a great deal to substantiate German opera and to initiate
Romantic opera.
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Carl Maria von Weber (biography)
Born: 1786, Eutin (“The Weimar of the North”), Germany
Died: 1826, London, England
“Puppies and first operas should be drowned.” -Weber
Lauded prematurely by his father as a “Mozartian Wunderkind,” and
simultaneously told that he would “…never be a musician!” by his brother Fridolin,
Weber began his musical and compositional endeavors at a very young age. His father,
Franz Anton, was the director of the touring Weber Theatre Company. Although the
traveling life made musical education somewhat difficult, Weber managed to write Six
Fughettas when he was just ten years old. His teacher at the time was Michael Haydn
(younger brother of Joseph Haydn) under whom he also later wrote his third opera, Peter
Schmoll und seine Nachbarn. Johann Evangelist Wallishauser and Nepomuk Kalcher also
taught Weber, for a time, together (Warrack, P. 34).
From 1804-1806 Weber, composed little, as his time was copiously filled with
conducting duties at the theatre in Breslau. Weber’s time in Breslau was, at once, marked
by fierce improvements to the orchestra and its repertoire, and by direct opposition from
certain members in and around the orchestra who did not approve of such a young man
(18 or so at the time) having leadership. Over the next few years, Weber traveled to
places such as Mannheim, Darmstadt, Munich, various places in Switzerland, and later in
Munich once again. His most significant positions came as music director in Prague from
1813 to1816 and in Dresden from 1816 to 1826 (Spitta). Weber died in his sleep on June
5th 1826 while in London working on his opera, Oberon (Brown).
Further Listening: Der Freischütz (1817-21), Euryanthe (1822-23), Oberon
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Works Cited
Brown, Clive. "Weber, Carl Maria von." The New Grove Dictionary of Opera. Ed.
Stanley Sadie. Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. 16 Feb. 2010
“Weber, Carl Maria von” is a concise biographical article from the Oxford
research resource.
Burkholder, J. Peter. Grout, Donald. Palisca, Claude V. A History of Western Music. New
York: W. W. Norton & Company. 2010.
Burkholder’s book traces music from antiquity up to today. The text discusses
Weber in chapter 27 (Romantic Opera and Musical Theater to Midcentury).
Page, Janet K. et al. "Clarinet." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. 17 Mar. 2010
Page’s article is an extensive and in-depth look at the history of the clarinet.
Spitta, Philipp. "Weber." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. 16 Feb. 2010
Spitta’s “Weber” article is a 60+ page biography.
Warrack, John. Carl Maria von Weber. New York. The Macmillan Company.
Warrack claims in the preface of his Weber biography that it is one of the most
detailed accounts of the composer’s life written outside of Germany.