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8.554144 - CRUSELL: Clarinet Concertos
The Finnish composer Bemhard Henrik Crusell was born in Uusikaupunki, the Swedish Nystad, in October 1775, the son of a bookbinder, Jakob Crusell. His musical abilities were early recognised and he had his training, from the age of eight, as a pupil of a regimental clarinettist, Westerberg. He won the patronage of a certain Lieutenant Lorenz Armfelt, who in 1788 opened for him the possibility of a career as an army musician. With the encouragement of Major Olof von Wallensterna at Sveaborg he was able to join the regimental band of the Queen Mother's Life Guards, moving to Stockholm in 1791 and, before he was yet seventeen, assuming the direction of the band. In Stockholm in 1793 he was recruited as first clarinettist into the Hovkapellet by the Court Kapellmeister Georg Joseph Vogler, the Abbé Vogler, who owed much to Mannheim and had entered the service of the Swedish King Gustavus Adolphus III in 1786, to return in 1793, after the King's assassination, in the employment of his former pupil, now Gustavus Adolphus IV. From 1794 to 1796 he was principal clarinettist in the wind ensemble of the Prince Regent and in 1798 he was able to travel to Berlin to study further with the virtuoso Franz Tausch, the teacher of Heinrich Baermann, and himself a product of Mannheim, now in the service of King Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia. In 1803 he took the opportunity of travelling to Paris for lessons in composition from Gossec and Henri-Montan Berton and in clarinet from the virtuoso Jean Xavier Lefèvre, who had joined the staff of the Paris Conservatoire at its foundation in 1795. In the Swedish court music establishment, to which he returned after a few months in Paris, he served, from about 1808, as acting Kapellmeister but in 1818, on the accession to the throne of Count Bernadotte, had to content himself with the post of music director of the band of the Royal Grenadier Life Guards, a position he retained until his death in 1838. Crusell won wider distinction in Stockholm. Not only was he recognised as one of the great clarinet virtuosi of his time, but, a man of wide culture, he also won distinction as a linguist, with translations of opera libretti. His own opera Den lilla slafvinnan (‘The Little Slave Girl’), a version of the work of the French 'Corneille of the boulevards', Guilbert de Pixérécourt, won success, as did his setting of a dozen poems by the Swedish poet Esaias Tegnér, drawn from his historically inspired Frithiofs Saga, among other songs. Crusell was awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Swedish Academy in 1837.
The first of Crusell's three clarinet concertos, the Concerto in E flat major, Opus 1, dedicated to Count Gustav Trolle-Bonde, is thought to have been written at some time between 1803 and 1805 and was published in Leipzig in 1811. The work opens with the expected orchestral exposition, after which the soloist enters with a characteristically embellished version of the first subject, leading, in writing that displays the range and possibilities of the clarinet, to the second subject, now in the expected key of B flat major. The material is developed and returns in recapitulation. The A flat major slow movement allows the clarinet a brief aria, to be followed by the lively final Rondo, which again finds room for virtuoso display in scales, arpeggios and figuration that exploits the contrasted registers of the solo instrument.
Crusell's Concerto in F minor, Opus 5, has been dated to 1815. It was dedicated to Alexander I, Tsar of Russia, and published, when the necessary permission had been granted, in 1818. The choice of key and the nature of the thematic material make of this work something very different. The first movement is again in the expected form, with an orchestral exposition dominated by the principal theme, leading to the entry of the soloist. Again in the solo writing there is a full use of the resources of the instrument and the composer's own virtuosity as a performer, with the two characteristic registers of the clarinet exploited at once, before the development of the theme by the solo instrument. The key of F minor allows an additional element of drama and occasional poignancy that is very much of its period. A portrait of the composer painted in the 1820s by Johan Gustaf Sandberg shows him holding the score of the concerto with the principal theme of the first movement seen in the music he is holding, a suggestion of its importance to him. The D flat major slow movement, an Andante pastorale in a lilting 9/8 metre, gives a chance for display of another kind, in its dynamic changes and contrasts, with final echo effects that offer, incidentally, a further technical challenge in the demand for the softest playing imaginable, as the clarinet answers the orchestra. The movement is followed by a final F minor Rondo of great charm, ending in a positive F major.
The third of Crusell's clarinet concertos, the Concerto in B flat major, Opus 11, was published in 1828 and dedicated to Crown Prince Oscar of Sweden and Norway. It is an earlier composition than the Concerto in F minor and seemingly dates from 1807. The soloist enters at once with the orchestra, adding its own element to the first dozen bars or so, before the orchestra is left to pursue its own course. An ascending arpeggio introduces the solo entry proper, after which the thematic material is fully explored, with all the resources of the solo instrument. The E flat major slow movement, as so often, uses a theme that starts with the notes of the tonic chord. There is room for a cadenza and for a show of technical virtuosity that always remains subservient to the music itself. The concerto ends with an Alia polacca movement, its varied rhythmic figuration again characteristic of clarinet writing of the period, of the work of Spohr and of Weber, although it is Crusell himself, who, as a remarkable performer, knows above all how to integrate technical with musical possibilities.
Per Billman was born in 1961 and started to play the clarinet in the municipal music school in his home town of Tingsryd. The experience he gained playing in wind bands there inspired him to continue his studies at the Conservatories in Malmö and Stockholm. After graduating in 1985 he spent several years as a freelance musician in Stockholm at the Folk Opera, with the Stockholm Ensemble and with the Stockholm Chamber Orchestra, of which he is still a member. From 1988 to 1991 he was a member of the Falu Wind Quintet, and he now performs with the Vadeaux Quintet. Since 1991 he has been principal clarinet at the Royal Opera House, a position which he assumed exactly 190 years after Bernhard Crusell.
Uppsala Chamber Orchestra
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