Concerto for Two Clarinets in Eb, op. 91

Composer: 

            Krommer was born in Moravia, but like so many artists from that time and place, he spent his career moving easily throughout the vast Austro-Hungarian Empire.  Serving at times in Hungary and Austria, he ended his distinguished career in Vienna, where he was composer for the Imperial Court.  Today, it is not generally appreciated in this country the degree to which Czech composers and performers were an integral part of the music scene in Vienna in centuries past.  Krommer is a typical example of their importance, and while certainly not a household word, today, at the time he was well known and respected--even seen as one of Beethoven’s rivals.  Living through the lives of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, his musical style reflects the span of them all, as he evolved from a “pre-classic” composer to romantic one.  A prolific composer, with over seventy string quartets and nine symphonies, he is especially known today for his contributions to wind literature, including wind ensembles and wind concertos.  The latter are for a variety of solo instruments, including “triple” concertos for flute, oboe, and violin; solo concertos for clarinet, flute, and oboe; and the two double concertos for clarinet.

            The second one, composed around 1815, is in the usual three movements, and takes full advantage of the resources of the instrument.  A facile technique, warm low notes, and great dynamic flexibility are innate to the instrument, and all are on display in this charming and entertaining work.  It’s both a reflection of the resources of the early nineteenth-century instrument, and testament to why it was one of Mozart’s favorite instruments. Inevitably, a common reaction to first hearing Krommer’s work is that  “It sounds like Mozart!”  And so it does, along with everyone else at the time, for it’s composed in the mature classic style, and it is done well, at that.  The first movement is in a typical classical concerto first movement form, and after a long orchestra exposition the two clarinets enter.   It’s clearly a work for two equals, and the two engage in “gay repartee,” as in a friendly conversation between close friends.  They answer back and forth, and then join together in a marvelous dialog.  The slow movement is a noble and dramatic one in c minor that exploits the clarinet’s expressive side.  The last movement begins coyly with pizzicato strings propelling the two soloists along.  Entitled a “polacca,” it completely evokes the figurations and happy mood of a central European polka.  Little fanfare figures in the orchestra, bolstered by the trumpets, introduce the sections, as the piece careens along.  It’s almost impossible to not greet the conclusion of this little gem without a smile.   Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven were not the only game in town in those days.

--Wm. E. Runyan

© 2015 William E. Runyan