Carl Maria von Weber
Clarinet Quintet in B flat Major, Op.34
Weber’s impetus for writing his Op.34 Clarinet Quintet in B flat Major was his friendship with the clarinet virtuoso Heinrich Baermann which began in 1811. Weber worked on the quintet off and on for four years completing it in 1815. Baermann was a touring soloist and though most likely he might have preferred a concerto, quite often soloists found that it was quite impossible to find a decent orchestra in some of the smaller cities where they concertized. Soloists who were also composers, such as Louis Spohr, solved their problems by writing quartets or quintets known as “brillant” indicating they were a vehicle for the soloist. A kind of mini-concerto. The soloist need only find 4 or 5 good musicians, which even most small towns could supply, and a concert could be had. Weber’s Clarinet Quintet was designed to fill this bill and it provides all of the drama, thrills and pathos of a concerto. And as an opera composer, Weber had no difficulty creating dramatic operatic effects. While the work requires a clarinetist of high technical ability, it is not simply a 'show off' piece devoid of musical worth. To the contrary, the lovely melodies and fine handling of the themes make it a compelling piece of music. The work is in four movements and begins with a dramatic Allegro. The second movement is entitled Fantasia. Here, Weber creates a work worthy of his best operatic efforts. It is dramatic and deeply felt. Next comes a lilting Menuetto, capriccio presto, which takes the place of a scherzo but in no way can it be styled a classical minuet. The finale is the piece de resistance, a rollicking Rondo allegro giojoso, which bounces forward effortlessly, like a horse racing the wind.
The musical reputation of Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826) rests almost entirely on his famous operas Die Freischutz and Oberon and a few other works such as his clarinet concertos. But Weber’s music by and large is unknown to present day players and listeners, which is a pity since it is uniformly well-written, particularly for wind instruments. Chamber music, however, comprises only a very small part of his oeuvre. There are only three works which qualify as chamber music—his Piano Quartet, his Clarinet Quintet and a trio for Flute or Violin, Cello and Piano. Weber studied with Michael Haydn in Salzburg and the Abbe Vogler in Vienna, two of the leading teachers of their day. He pursued a career as a conductor and music director holding posts in Breslau, Prague, Berlin and Dresden.