Don't Forget The Mozart

Updated: Dec 24, 2021

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Portrait

Like Stand By Me, The Breakfast Club and Eighth Grade, the Mozart Clarinet Concerto, K622 is a "coming of age" sort of work. In high school, it was "the piece" to play and if you decided to go to college, you would learn it for the first time...even if you had learned it before. It was the first real concerto most of us learn about and maybe even learn. It had/has long passages of sixteenth notes and we all know that sixteenth notes make the man...or woman.

1st movement excerpt from the Mozart Clarinet Concerto

Look at that! Three octaves of pure technical ecstasy. All the lessons and drills on scales and arpeggios are coming to fruition. And the piece goes on forever at 25 minutes long. Even the slow movement has thirty-second notes! Amazing. (That's what I'll be when I play this piece.)

Ecerpt from the 2nd movement of the Mozart Clarinet Concerto

Of course, we really have no clue at the onset. We think we do, just as most young people think they do, but we don't. The Mozart has much, much more to give than sixteenths and thirty-second notes.

It's when we get to college (or study with a significant level player) that what the Mozart has to offer is revealed. Evenness and control were not in our vocabulary in high school. But you cannot know the Mozart until you master them. And you will master them with the Mozart. Break out the metronome, it will be your partner in this, and lets get to work is the mindset your college professor will have when you sit down with Herr Mozart.

This is not to even address the historical legacy of the piece for both the musician and the instrument itself. Anton Stadler, for whom the concerto was written, was the Martin Frost or Corrado Giuffredi of his day and Mozart appreciated him and his playing—they were friends from about 1780 until Mozart passed in 1791. And taking this piece for the first time in 1791, one of the last pieces Mozart wrote, one would perform in the "Classical" style which means absolute control and evenness of technique and tone. Anton was up for the job.

And the clarinet Mr. Stadler played on, or rather the bassett clarinet which extended all the way down to C below our lowest E, had fewer keys than we use today (though it was touted to be overloaded with keys). It had to be even more challenging then to play what we praise today as the end-all of learning control and evenness on the clarinet.

But learn it we do. We take our teacher's advice and embark on months of hard work that will try our patience to no end. Every note must speak clearly and cleanly. Every pattern must be perfectly aligned with that incessant clicking of the metronome. You find unevenness in the simplest of places. But it must be even.

Mozart Clarinet Concerto excerpt demonstrating evenness spot

And going over the altissimo break...evenly in tone and technique.

Mozart Clarinet Concerto 3rd movement excerpt showing altissimo leap

The lessons are right and deep. You pay for those lessons with your time and sweat. Lessons well worth having experienced. You are a musician, maybe for the first time in your life, after learning the Mozart.

But then...we put Mozart away. We explore other works as we progress and find faster pieces, longer pieces, more beautiful pieces. There are so many wonderful pieces available for our clarinet...for us. The Mozart has good company.

And what if life throws you a curve ball and you have put your clarinet away for a few years. When you come back, all is new! All the worderful pieces are there, beckoning you to play them again. Ah, the poor Mozart has lots of competition.

But alas, don't forget the Mozart. All the lessons it taught you are needed in your return to the clarinet. Evenness and control are demanded in many of the pieces since Mozart. But there remains, to this day, no piece that I can recall that teaches us more about evenness and control than the Mozart.

So, if you are still playing or if you are coming back from hiatus, remember the Mozart. Pull that masterpiece out and give it a go. You might be suprised at the lessons it still has to teach.

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