Louis Spohr

Clarinet Concerto No. 1 in C minor, Op. 26

    Description by Adrian Corleonis

    After recognition as a child prodigy and a tour as a violin virtuoso, which took him to Halle, Leipzig (where he scored a brilliant success with the prestigious Gewandhaus Orchestra), Dresden, and Berlin, the young Spohr was called to become concertmaster in Gotha, in 1805. The following year, he married virtuoso harpist Dorette Scheidler in a love match that produced a great deal of music for harp and violin, and, in quick succession, two daughters. Though he and Scheidler subsequently toured the musical capitals (Vienna, Prague, Rome, London, and Paris) together during vacations with great artistic and financial success, the post in Gotha gave him the stability to assimilate the numerous musical influences he encountered, and from this assimilation a strikingly individual voice soon began to emerge. This prolific composer's series of remarkable violin concertos (which would eventually grow to 15 works) had already been inaugurated when, in the summer of 1807, he was visited by Prince Sondershausen's concert director, the renowned clarinetist Johann Simon Hermstedt (1778-1846), who brought a commission, from Sondershausen, for a clarinet concerto. Spohr composed his Clarinet Concerto No. 1 through fall 1808. Its premiere in Sondershausen produced the desired brilliant effect and lent a significant boost to the reputations of both Spohr and Hermstedt. When Hermstedt played the concerto in Leipzig, in November 1809, a critic noted that "it belongs to the most spirited and beautiful music which this justly famous master has ever written." At the time of this encomium, Spohr was 25 years old. As with Beethoven and Liszt, Spohr's imagination ran ahead of what was actually possible on the primitive instruments of his day. In an 1810 preface to the published work, Spohr wrote, "Since at that time [of composition] my knowledge of the clarinet was pretty nearly limited to its range and I therefore paid little attention to the weaknesses of the instrument, I have thus written much that will appear to the clarinetist at first sight as unpracticable. Herr Hermstedt, however, far from asking me to alter these passages, sought rather to perfect his instrument and soon by continuous industry arrived at the point where his clarinet had no faulty, dull, uncertain tones." Opening the first movement, a plaintive Adagio ushers in the downward leap of a sixth to an arching motif that furnishes the material of both the first and second themes in a most gracious use of what has come to be called cellular transformation gleaned from Beethoven, which was to become the basis of Liszt's thematic metamorphoses and one pillar of Franck's "cyclical" technique. As the tempo moves to Allegro and the clarinet becomes ever-more effusively confiding, an initial gravity -- if never entirely dispelled -- is softened in florid brilliance through a substantial but always engaging development. A brief central Adagio movement spins out a mellifluously long-breathed, Romantic bel canto melody for clarinet. And the final Rondo-Vivace caps all with an exercise in garrulous bonhommie that Spohr would essay ever more deftly and charmingly throughout his career.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Adagio - Allegro
    2. Adagio
    3. Rondo. Vivace

    Appears On

    Year Title / Performer Label / Catalog # AllMusic Rating
    2018
    Various Artists
    Brilliant Classics
    95787
    2015
    Alto / Musical Concepts
    MCSCD 1266
    2013
    Deutsche Grammophon
    2013
    Brilliant Classics
    94837
    2012
    Alpha / Alpha Productions
    ALPHA 605
    2011
    Brilliant Classics
    94100
    2009
    Denon Records
    2009
    Denon Records
    2008
    Regis Records
    2011
    2007
    Argo
    4758576
    2005
    Decca
    4767404
    2005
    Hyperion
    67509
    2002
    Brilliant
    99497
    2001
    Tudor Records
    7009
    1997
    Carlton Classics
    00552
    1997
    ASV
    659
    1995
    Naxos
    550688
    1994
    Orfeo
    88101