Composed between 27 September and 8 October 1791 in Vienna and thus one of the last compositions produced by WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART, the Clarinet Concerto became the first major work in European music written for this relatively new instrument, constructed in the early eighteenth century. The work was written especially for Anton Stadler (1753-1812), Mozart’s close friend, fellow Freemason and virtuoso clarinettist at the Vienna Royal Orchestra, for whom four years earlier Mozart also wrote his Clarinet Quintet. Stradler himself was a composer and teacher; he trained members of the aristocratic Esterhazy family, and was employed by the Russian ambassador to Vienna at some time before joining the Royal Orchestra. He was closely familiar with Mozart’s music and had taken part in many performances of his operas and symphonies. Stadler was famous for his beautiful tone and especially for his exceptional mastery in the low register. After one of his performances, Mozart wrote to him: “Never would I have thought that a clarinet could be capable of imitating the human voice as deceptively as it is imitated by you. Truly your instrument has so soft and lovely a tone that nobody with a heart could resist it. ”
Following Stadler’s idea, the manufacturer of clarinets Theodore Lotz expanded the instrument by adding four semitones to the lower register and thus contrived the so called ‘basset clarinet’. It was for this instrument that Mozart originally wrote his concerto, as well as the clarinet parts in the Quintet for Clarinet and String Quartet. In fact, he had already 199 bars written for the basset horn – an instrument which Stadler also played. But on his journey to Prague for the premiere of his opera La Clemenza di Tito, Mozart was accompanied by his student Süssmayr, who revealed he was writing a concerto for Stadler’s basset clarinet. This may have stimulated Mozart into completing the discarded concerto fragment and develop it into a three-movement basset clarinet concerto which he later sent to Stadler. This concerto became Mozart’s last fully completed and orchestrated score – Mozart died seven weeks the work had its premiere given by Stadler in Prague on October 16, 1791. The original manuscript is lost and the concerto was only published in 1802, with the solo part adapted for performance on the modern type of clarinet.
Received with glamorous acclaim in its own day, Mozart’s clarinet concerto has influenced a number of later authors to produce works for the clarinet, becoming not just one of the central opuses in the concert repertoire for the instrument, but is also being used as soundtrack to many twentieth-century cinematographic masterpieces – such as the film Far from Africa by director Sydney Pollack (starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford), in a recording of a performance by clarinettist Jack Brymer with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields conducted by Sir Neville Mariner.