Although he composed several substantial works, Heinrich Joseph Baermann is remembered mainly as the clarinetist who inspired and first championed Carl Maria von Weber's two clarinet concertos and concertino. He straddled two eras; he was among the last generations of players who could secure appointments as court musicians rather than working full-time in the public eye, yet he was also one of the first successful traveling woodwind virtuosos -- the man who more than any other established the clarinet as an expressive, romantic instrument.
Baermann led a colorful life that early on was closely linked to the military. He first studied oboe at the Potsdam School of Military Music and at 14 became a bandmaster in the Prussian Life Guards. About this time, he began studying the clarinet with Joseph Beer and in 1805, enjoying the patronage of Prince Louis Ferdinand, he took lessons with Tausch. He served and fought in the Prussian army and was captured by the French in the battle of Jena, but he escaped and made his way to Munich, where he obtained an appointment as court musician.
Baermann retained that court position until his retirement in 1834, but he meanwhile also concertized throughout Europe as early as 1808. After his successful performances of Weber's concerted works for clarinet, he and the composer toured to Prague and through Germany in 1811 - 1812. It was largely through Baermann's performances that the Berlin public began to appreciate Weber's music. Later, the clarinetist played to great acclaim in Italy, France, Russia, and England, including a six-month stint in London in 1819. He shared many of his concerts, as well as his bed, with the Munich singer Helene Harlas. The couple produced four children, one of whom was the clarinetist, composer, and teacher Karl (or Carl) Baermann, who in turn fathered a pianist of the same name who would wind up teaching in the U.S., claiming among his pupils Amy Beach.
The personally likable Heinrich Baermann inspired other composers as well: Mendelssohn wrote his clarinet pieces for him and Meyerbeer produced a quintet for him and a cantata, Gli amori, for both Baermann and Harlas. Baermann's tone was smoother and richer than that of many of his contemporaries and his playing was particularly expressive. He himself wrote clarinet teaching pieces and exercises that remained in use, particularly in Germany, through the twentieth century. His concert works -- chamber and orchestral pieces all centered on the clarinet -- have fared less well. The one Baermann piece that circulated at all widely was the adagio from his 1821 Clarinet Quintet No. 3, Op. 23, which was for more than a century misattributed to Richard Wagner. The piece was finally re-published under Baermann's name in 1971, but once shorn of the Wagner connection, the adagio enjoyed fewer performances.