This article reviews the best clarinet concertos ever written and performed. Read it now to discover more.
I have always been fascinated by the clarinet in a concerto performance. This has driven me to constantly look for musical concertos written, arranged, and performed with the clarinet. The need to satiate this thirst for clarinet concertos drove me to undertake this research. I will share with you a comprehensive review of the best clarinet concerto pieces based on my findings from the fact-finding mission in this article. Keep reading to discover these exceptional clarinet concertos I unearthed, their composers, and what makes distinguishes each piece from the crowd. Here are a few quick tips for about concertos as we proceed:
- Concertos are mainly instrumental and differ from sonatas which include singing during the performance.
- Concertos are traditionally meant for orchestras and typically opera-oriented.
- Clarinet concertos are centered on the clarinet as the main instrument accompanied by others during a performance.
What Makes a great clarinet concertos?
A great clarinet concerto piece is determined by:
- The composer
Great clarinet concertos are crafted by gifted composers who stood out from the crowd to stand acclaimed for their extraordinary work in their era.
- The History
A rich history backs up all great music. History is what we bequeath ourselves and the generations before and after us through great music.
- The Musical Ingenuity
The technical expertise, in-depth knowledge of the craft, and pure natural genius and creativity are the key ingredients that make a great clarinet concerto as will be evidenced in this article.
How We Chose the Best clarinet concertos?
We selected the best clarinet concerto pieces written across various periods in history based on:
The technique employed in the composition, arrangement, and performance of a clarinet concerto is an aspect that sets ordinary music apart from the rest. The concerto pieces in this article display exceptional techniques in both composition and performance. The techniques used by the composers of these concerto pieces vary, with some settling for the comfortable common styles of composition commonly present during their time, while others opt to move away from what is common, to create new techniques or fuse the old with the new trends, as you will notice in this article.
The structure of a clarinet concerto piece is extremely important to consider because it sets concertos apart. Compositions are arranged in movements ranging from one to four as you will discover when you read the next segments of this article.
Copland – Clarinet Concerto
This piece is an example of a world-class concerto that goes against the conventional arrangements of concertos. It is arranged in two movements played back to back which is unusual for traditional concertos apart from adapting a jazzy rhythm and melodies instead of opera.
The ability of the music to invoke strong feelings
Music is a powerful tool that connects us to our basest emotions making us experience feelings and emotions. Great music communicates to the human being within us and connects us in a language that is so powerful beyond all barriers of race, religion, geographical boundaries, age, gender, and culture. The pieces we chose here evoke strong feelings of friendship, anguish, joy, love pain, romance, loneliness, and a myriad of other human experiences in the notes and rhythms.
Review of the Best Clarinet Concertos of all time
Listed below in no particular order is a review of 16 Best Clarinet Concertos ever written and performed:
Bärmann – Clarinet Concerto
Clarinet Concerto Militaire was composed in 1874 by renowned German clarinet virtuoso Heinrich Bärmann. The musical masterpiece is arranged in three movements beginning with allegro, easing on to andante, and ending on allegro.
The music displays the incredible techniques of Bärmann as a composer taking you through a roller coaster journey down the romantic era of classical music compositions for about 24 magical minutes. The concerto is best played with the clarinet accompanied by an orchestra of 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, a tuba, bass drum, and cymbals and strings.
Copland – Clarinet Concerto
Copland’s clarinet concerto was written in 1947 by Aaron Copland. Copland is described by peers as the inventor of the modern American sound and he lives up to the reputation in this musical masterpiece.
This concerto takes you through 17 minutes of pure musical magic that infuses jazz with heavy modern harmonies. The piece was written for Benny Goodman for a jazz musical project which explains why it seems to go against almost all conventional classical music rules. The most notable feature of this concerto composition is that it is arranged in two movements played back to back. The concerto lets you share in the internal struggles of Copland and his loneliness from social alienation as a homosexual in America at a time when such sexual orientation was taboo in “civilized” society.
The music however adopts a happy feel-good mood in the second movement to end on a high note that makes you appreciate the 17 minutes of your time spent listening to it.
Mozart – Clarinet Concerto
Mozart is undoubtedly one of the finest composers of classical music. His genius and mind-blowing compositions testify to his reputation. He wrote the Mozart Clarinet Concerto in 1791 for his best friend and outstanding clarinetist Anton Sadler.
The Mozart Clarinet Concerto is a favorite for clarinet players with its broad range of interpretation and expression captured in three movements. It begins in allegro, then adagio, and ends with a rondo. The rondo climax is probably the most memorable and enjoyable musical melody ever written.
Mozart wrote this concerto specifically for the basset clarinet. He died 2 months after writing this piece leaving us with unquestionably the undisputed epitome of a classical concerto.
Weber – Clarinet Concerto No. 2
Weber is the best classical romantic music composer in operatic writing. He wrote the Clarinet Concerto no.2 in 1811 delivering 23 minutes of enchanting music expressed in rich tone and color depending on the tempo. The music moves from allegro to andante con moto and climaxes at alla pollaca.
Weber is the first composer to predominantly write musical pieces for the clarinet after Mozart and he does not disappoint.
Crussell – Clarinet Concerto No.1
Benard Heinrik Crusell was a renowned Swedish-Finnish clarinetist and classical music composer. His works are rewarding to listen to but challenging to play which is quite a beautiful paradox.
He composed the Clarinet Concerto no.1 around 1808. The composition is arranged in three perfectly blending movements that begin with an allegro which transitions into an adagio and climaxes with a rondo. You will get 22 minutes of pure musical nostalgia from this classical romantic music masterpiece. The music is best accompanied by a flute, 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, and strings.
Crussell – Clarinet Concerto No.2
Crussell composed Concerto no.2 for Alexander I of Russia after visiting St Petersburg in 1818. The piece is heavily influenced by Beethoven. It has a dark agitated opening like most Beethoven compositions which softens with the arrival of the clarinet and becomes even tenderer in the second movement before assuming a final boisterously high-spirited movement in the third movement that forms the climax. The music heavily leans on the style of the classical romantic music era.
It is best accompanied by a flute, 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, and strings.
Finzi – Clarinet Concerto
Gerald Raphael Finzi is among the best British classical music composers yet he is grossly underrated. This may be because he was more of a sporadic writer. His brilliance as a composer is well captured in this clarinet concerto which he composed in 1949. The music flows in three movements beginning with allegro vigoroso that gives way to adagio ma senza rigore that transitions into allegro giocoso as the music roves to a tantalizing climax. The concerto is more modern even though it has traditional classical music elements.
Finzi is an apple farmer who saved rare species of apples from extinction during the world war period and came out of the war to gift the world a clarinet musical masterpiece that will live forever.
Hindemith – Clarinet Concerto
Renowned German composer Paul Hindemith composed the clarinet concerto in 1947 for Benny Goodman. It is one of the most difficult clarinet concertos to play that you can use to challenge yourself as a clarinetist. It is one of the rarest concerto pieces you will ever find performed thanks to the difficulty of playing it. It is arranged in four movements and anchored on a more modern style with distinct echoes of a sonata giving you between 21-24 minutes of pure musical adventure.
The concerto was first performed in 1950 in Philadelphia by Goodman. It is best accompanied by a piccolo, flutes, oboes, bassoons, F-horns, trumpets, trombones, timpani, percussions, and strings in an orchestra.
Krommer – Clarinet Concerto
The Krommer clarinet concerto was written in 1803 by renowned Czech classical music composer Franz Krommer. It is a cleverly written concerto arranged in three flawlessly blending movements that start from allegro, move into adagio, and climax at rondo allegro.
The piece offers the soloist countless chances to sound impressive without being overly difficult with the movements flowing effortlessly from the beginning to the end. The concerto puts Krommer at per with Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven.
Nielsen – Clarinet Concerto
The Nielsen Clarinet Concerto is one of the finest pieces of classical music compositions written in 1928 by Danish composer Carl August Nielsen. This concerto piece was written for the acclaimed Danish clarinetist Aage Oxenvad. It is arranged in a single movement divided into four distinct themes. The concerto is quite difficult to perform but very rewarding if you get it right and on the stage.
Nielsen played for the military band in his younger years and inherited his music genius from his parents despite his poor background and it is also noticeable in his compositions.
Stravinsky – Ebony Concerto
The concerto was composed in 1945 for the jazz maestro Woody Herman. It perfectly seals Stravinsky’s love for jazz giving you 9 minutes of good music that is not anchored on traditional jazz but rather inclined towards jazz as you would expect from concertos.
The music is arranged in three movements that begin with allegro moderato which transitions into Adante which flows into moderato con moto and moderato vivo played at the same tempo giving you a modern jazzy feel. It is a very difficult piece of clarinet music to play. Herman recounts that the band was crying after the first rehearsal from the embarrassing challenge this musical masterpiece threw at them.
The concerto not only saved Stravinsky from financial doom but ended up being performed twice by Woody Herman and once by Benjamin Goodman.
Weber – Concerto No.1
Carl Maria von Weber composed the clarinet concerto No.1 in 1811 for Heinrich Bärmann. It is one of the highly regarded pieces written for the Bb clarinet. The concerto is arranged in three movements that capture the operatic signature of Weber’s music. It is styled in the romantic era moving flawlessly from allegro to adagio-ma-non-troppo and ending at rondo allegretto.
It is best accompanied by an orchestra of 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 3 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, and strings.
Stamitz – Clarinet Concerto No.7
This concerto was composed around 1771 by Carl Philipp Stamitz for his friend Johann Joseph Beer. Beer was an outstanding clarinetist. His friendship with Stamitz inspired the writing of this concerto and many others that the two performed together mirroring similar compositions inspired by the friendship between Mozart and Stadler.
The music is a classic clarinet orchestra arranged in the traditional 3 movements.
Stamitz – Clarinet Concerto No.3
This is yet another concerto composition by Stamitz for his Bohemian clarinetist friend Joseph Beer. The concerto is arranged in three movements to march Beer’s unrivaled technical mastery of the clarinet which influenced Stamitz to write this music specifically for him.
It is best accompanied by an orchestra of 2 oboes, 2 horns, and strings.
Arnold – Clarinet Concerto No. 1
This concerto was written in 1948 for Fredrick Thurston. Thurston was not only a friend of Arnold but an outstanding clarinetist. It was first performed in 1949 at Usher Hall in Edinburg. The concerto is arranged in three movements beginning with allegro which transitions into andante con moto that fuses into a molto allegro con Fuoco at the climax.
The result is 18 minutes of beautiful classical jazz with a touch of blues that begins on a darker dissonant not growing into a rhythmic undercurrent in the second movement and ending with an energetic climax in the third movement. The composition is best accompanied by strings.
Arnold – Clarinet Concerto No.2
This concerto was written in 1974 for Benny Goodman and has the perfect jazzy feel. It is a celebration of a longtime friendship between the two music icons.
It is arranged in 3 movements beginning with allegro vivace, then lento and finally ending at allegro non-troppo. The music was specifically tailored to Goodman’s jazzy background. Malcolm initially thought he had been pranked when Goodman called him to write this piece. He dropped it at a hotel with a bottle of Jack Daniels for Goodman. It is characterized by ragtime rhythms.
Any piece of a clarinet music concerto is universally considered the best due to its unique history, the technicality of the composition, and the expertise of the composer and performers. Many other beautiful clarinet concerto music pieces have not been included in this list that you will find out there if you go looking. The clarinet has always made beautiful music and will always make beautiful music and concertos are not an exception as we have just discovered.
What is a clarinet concerto?
A clarinet concerto is a piece of concerto music composition written and arranged with the clarinet as the main instrument?
What makes a clarinet concerto musical piece different from a clarinet Sonata?
A clarinet concerto is mainly composed and arranged to be performed with instrumentals while a sonata includes a clarinet as the main instrument plus other instruments but with singing included.
What is considered the best piece of a clarinet concerto?
For a clarinet concerto to qualify among the best in the world, it must be universally recognized and respected worldwide by musicians, audiences, educators in terms of technique, uniqueness and the musical ingenuity in the composition, arrangement and performance and of cause the composer too.