Mozart’s Swan Song: The Clarinet Concerto in A Major

Many classical music lovers find “traces of transcendence” in the music of Mozart (1756 – 1791), a certain mysterious ordering of tones and sounds that are almost superhuman. I won’t go so far as this, but with Mozart’s Concerto in A Major for Clarinet and Orchestra, K. 622, I am in complete agreement. Universally recognized as a masterpiece, this was the last concerto written by Mozart, and was completed just two months before his premature death in 1791 at the age of 35.

Typical of Mozart’s compositions, the Concerto has three parts: allegro, adagio and rondo: allegro. The adagio movement is my favorite. Mozart deftly uses this movement to showcase the singing quality of the clarinet as it spins a tale of sadness and loneliness, in which sadness is embodied in beauty and beauty in sadness.  By general consensus, it is regarded as one of Mozart’s most sublime slow movement. The renowned Swiss theologian and author has this to say:

To listen to the adagio of the Clarinet Concerto is to perceive something wholly other: the sound of an infinite which transcends us and for which beauty is no description …”  Personally, I doubt anyone listening to the adagio would not be awed by Mozart’s ability to embody the sadness in beauty and the beauty in sadness.

To him, it is Mozart’s music, more than any other composer, blurs the boundary between the human and the divine.

Wolgang Amadeus Mozart, The Clarinet Concerto in A Major, K. 622 (adagio movement), performed by the Mozarteum Orchestra: Jeffrey Tate (conductor) with Sharon Kam (clarinet coloist).

Historical Notes

The Clarinet Concerto owes its existence to Mozart’s friendship with the great clarinetist Anton Stadler, for whom he had earlier written the Quintet, K. 581. Stadler intended the piece for the basset horn, a type of clarinet pitched five steps below the normal B-flat clarinet. After completing the first movement, Mozart changed his mind and decided in favor of Stadler’s extended “basset clarinet”. Because this instrument is very rare, most modern performances use the non-extended clarinet in A, which is why the concerto is popularly known as the Clarinet Concerto in A.

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