The Clarinet Compositions of Bernhard Crusell

by Mitchell Estrin

Date Posted: March 15, 2018

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Bernhard Henrik Crusell (1775-1838) was a Finnish clarinetist and composer who was one of the leading virtuosos of his time. Almost an exact contemporary of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), Crusell studied in Germany and at the Paris Conservatory, and concertized extensively as a soloist. He took up residency in Stockholm, where he was the principal clarinetist of the Royal Court Orchestra for forty years, from 1793-1833.

In addition to his orchestral position, Crusell was also a prolific composer, writing many works for the clarinet. His compositions are noted for their beautiful melodies, rich harmonies, and expert craftsmanship. Although quite classical in nature, his writing also ventured into the realm of early romanticism. Crusell was fluent in several languages, and translated a number of notable opera librettos into Swedish. He also wrote an autobiography.

Crusell's clarinet concertos are particularly noteworthy. His superb writing for the clarinet was founded in his own masterful skill-set on the instrument. He often performed his own works, and earned a reputation around Europe as a great virtuoso. His solo lines combine the clarity and symmetry of the classical clarinet works, with sumptuous vocal lines and adventurous technical passages more prevalent in romantic music.

Crusell composed three clarinet concertos:

Concerto in E-flat major, Op. 1

Grand Concerto in F minor, Op. 5

Concerto in B-flat major, Op. 11

Each of these concertos include three movements and are filled with melodic lyricism and brilliant virtuosic passagework. Crusell was also a master orchestrator, combining rich orchestral textures with the necessary transparency for the solo voice.

Crusell's other compositions include a triple concertante for clarinet, horn, bassoon, and orchestra, three excellent clarinet duos, and some wonderful quartets for clarinet, violin, viola, and cello. He also composed an opera, and at least two works for bassoon and orchestra. His music is very rewarding to study, perform, and hear. Many of his works are published and available.

I encourage you to listen to and play Crusell's music. I’m certain that any clarinetist will find this a rewarding musical experience! Here are links to three of my favorite Crusell performances:

Steven Hartman performing the Concerto in E-flat major, Op. 1

Hakan Rosengren performing the Grand Concerto, Op. 5

Kari Kriikku performing the Quartet No. 2, Op. 4

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