SPOHR: Clarinet Concertos Nos. 1 and 3 / Potpourri, Op. 80
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Louis Spohr (1784 - 1859)
Clarinet Concerto No.1 in C Minor, Op. 26
Clarinet Concerto No.3 in F Minor, WoO 19
Potpourri for clarinet and orchestra, Op. 80
Louis Spohr was born in Brunswick in 1784, the son of a doctorand descendant of a family that had for some generations been firmly established in thecure of souls or of bodies. The family moved to Seesen in 1786 and here Spohr began todevelop his innate musical interests, with violin lessons and attempts at composition.
From 1797 he was able to pursue a sounder course of general and musical education inBrunswick, where, in 1799, he was accepted as a violinist in the court orchestra, with theencouragement of the reigning duke, a nephew of Frederick the Great. It was through thispatron that violin lessons were arranged with Franz Eck, a musician from the old Mannheimorchestra, whom Spohr accompanied on a concert-tour to Russia. His return to Brunswick,now with the first of his violin concertos published with a dedication to the Duke, led topromotion and a successful concert-tour to other German cities. The result of this was hisappointment in 1805 as Konzertmeister at Gotha, where he met and married DoretteScheidler, daughter of a singer and herself a harpist and pianist. In Gotha he was able tocontinue his activities as both composer and virtuoso violinist, while securing a goodstandard of performance from the orchestra in a court that paid proper attention to music.
There followed further compositions, some for violin and harp to be played by himself andhis wife, and concert-tours that spread his reputation further afield. It was as a resultof success in Vienna that he was invited in 1813 to join the Theater an der Wien asdirector of the orchestra. The appointment now gave him a chance to broaden his activitiesas a composer, with the possibility of the staging of any opera he might write, althoughthe first result of this, his Faust, wasrejected, to be given its first performance in Prague in 1816.
Spohr's position in Vienna proving unsatisfactory, in spite ofhis success with the public, he arranged for the termination of his contract and after ayear spent in Italy moved in 1817 to Frankfurt as Kapellmeister at the opera, where his Faust was staged. In 1820 he resigned, undertakingengagements in London, Paris and Dresden and in 1822 accepting the position ofKapellmeister in Kassel. This appointment did not put an end to his concert-tours, whichhe was able to resume during the course of the next thirty-five years. Nevertheless hisassociation with Kassel was to continue, for better or worse, until his death in 1859.
During this period he consolidated his reputation abroad and in German- speaking countriesas one of the leading composers of the time, a position that, by the time of his death, hehad begun to lose. Spohr represented a link with the old classical tradition and fashionswere now changing. While much of his violin music, the duets, concertos and the Violinschule, remain of importance for students ofthe instrument, and compositions like the Nonetarestill heard, much of Spohr's work is only now undergoing a slow process of revival.
Spohr's concertos for the clarinet are in a measure exceptionsto this general neglect of his work. They come at an important stage in the development ofthe instrument and its repertoire and thus hold a special position among players. Thefirst of them, the Clarinet Concerto in C minor, Opus26, was written in the autumn of 1808 for the clarinettist Johann SimonHermstedt in response to a commission from his employer, Prince G??nther Friedrich Carl ofSchwarzburg-Sondershausen. The clarinet part necessitated various changes in theinstrument itself, which Hermstedt was able to secure, ensuring a proper responsethroughout its register. The dramatic opening Adagio includes the germ of the firstsubject of the following Allegro, taken up by the clarinet and embroidered with somebrilliance. The same thematic material is the source of the lyrical second subject,interwoven with the orchestra as the movement unfolds. Although Weber claimed ignorance ofthe instrument before writing this concerto, he nevertheless demonstrates a sure handlingof the special qualities of its contrasting registers and its effectiveness in arpeggios,rapid scales and ornamentation, as well as in sustained operatic melody. The secondmovement, an Adagio, starts with a clarinet melody of moving simplicity and potentialdramatic content. The serenity of the Adagio gives way to a final Rondo, its principaltheme announced by the clarinet. This lively movement provides a brilliant conclusion to aconcerto that makes some demands on the dexterity and endurance of a performer, demandsthat Hermstedt seems to have met with distinction.
In 1810 Hermstedt asked Spohr for a second concerto, to beplayed at the Frankenhausen Festival, where it was received with enthusiasm, and in 1821proposed a third work for his use, the ClarinetConcerto in F minor, to be played at a festival in Alexisbad. The new concertoopens with a dramatic orchestral exposition, followed by a display of agility from thesoloist in music that constantly suggests the operatic in its lyricism, replete with thefeeling that lies behind much of the writing in the violin concertos. Here again Spohrcaptures the characteristic tone of the solo instrument in music admirably suited to itspeculiar propensities. The orchestra introduces the second movement Adagio, soon followed by the solo clarinet in aslow-moving melody of pent emotion, the principal theme again operatic in mood, as it isgradually developed. The tranquillity of its conclusion is followed an elegant anddramatic finale, its thematic material and its treatment moving from the tender to thehistrionic. Seven years later Hermstedt asked for a fourth concerto, to be played at afestival at Nordhausen, as it was with now predictable success.
Spohr's Potpourri, Opus 80,was written for Hermstedt on the occasion of the Frankenhausen Festival of 1811. Here thecomposer uses themes from Peter von Winter's opera Dasunterbrochene Opferfest, a work that enjoyed some contemporary popularity afterits first performance in Vienna in 1796, although Spohr entertained reservations aboutWinter in other respects. Horns introduce the opening Larghetto, immediately followed bythe clarinet, in material that is a reminder of the historical position Winter occupiesbetween the opera of Mozart and that of Weber and German romanticism. Here relativelysimple themes are embellished by the clarinet, which announces the classical Singspielmelody that opens the Allegro, before proceeding to embellish and vary it, in a movementthat again exploits the virtuosity of the soloist.
Ernst Ottensamer was born in 1955 at Wallern in Upper Austriaand studied the clarinet at the Bruckner Conservatory in Linz, before moving to ViennaMusikhochschule, where he completed his studies in 1979. He first played with the ViennaState Opera and Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra in 1978, before becoming a principalclarinettist in 1983. Since 1986 he has also been a member of the teaching staff of theVienna Musikhochschule. Ernst Ottensamer enjoys a busy career as a founder-member of theVienna Wind Ensemble, with which he has undertaken more than 150 engagements at home andabroad. He has appeared as a soloist with a number of leading orchestras in Vienna andperformed the Weber E flat Concerto with the Vienna Philharmonic as part of the 1990Salzburg Easter Festival.
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