The Controversy of Weber's Clarinet Concerto No. 1

By Mitchell Estrin

Date Posted: July 02, 2018

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Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826) wrote some of the most significant solo works in the clarinet repertoire. His friendship with the virtuoso clarinetist Heinrich Baermann (1784-1847) resulted in the creation of a series of magnificent pieces for clarinet. Weber’s magical gift for vocal melody, combined with his complete understanding of the capabilities of the clarinet, has kept clarinetists and audiences musically mesmerized for over two centuries.

The Concerto No. 1 in F minor, Op. 73 was composed in 1811 when Weber was 24 years old. The work was commissioned by King Maximilian I Joseph of Bavaria, following the rousing success of the premiere of Weber’s Concertino, Op. 26.

“Where is the controversy” you ask? Weber composed the concerto for his friend Heinrich Baermann and left the manuscript of the solo line somewhat sparse, allowing Baermann poetic license to phrase and embellish as he pleased, as was often the practice in concertos for solo instruments during this time period in music history. Baermann freely added phrase markings, dynamics, grace notes, slight rhythmic variations, and even an extended cadenza in the first movement. His interpretation was reportedly very different from the more docile and simple solo line that appeared in the early published editions.

In 1868-69, Heinrich’s son Carl (1810-1885), himself a clarinetist and pedagogue of great renown, published an edition of the concerto based on his father’s copy of the solo part. He included the many additions and embellishments his father had used in performance. It is generally recognized that these additions were added by Carl based upon his father’s solo part, his recollections of hearing his father in performance, and his remembrances of Weber’s preferences. Carl’s relatively young age (15) when Weber died in 1826, and the four decades that had passed before the creation of his edition, has added to the controversy of which edition is truly the most authentic.

Today, there are many varying editions of the solo part available. Some editions adhere strictly to Weber’s original sparse solo line; others match Carl’s 1868-69 edition, while others are a hybrid of the two.

There is no verifiable “correct” way to play this masterpiece. It is up to the individual performer to decide which version they prefer. The purpose of this article is to explain the reason for the differing editions, and relate the controversy that lives on regarding which one is the truly authentic version. I leave this decision up to you!

To help in your own musical process...

I suggest studying the edition by G. Henle. This edition comes with two separate solo parts, the original version as well as the 1868-69 Carl Baermann version. The piano reduction has both editions of the solo line printed, one above the other, so you may easily compare the differences in the two solo lines. This edition also includes a scholarly preface with excellent historical perspective by the editor, Norbert Gertsch.

In any form, Weber’s Concerto No. 1 is deserving of its high standing in the hierarchy of the greatest works ever composed for the clarinet.

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