The clarinet is the johnny-come-lately of the orchestral woodwind. Unlike those old baroque stalwarts, the bassoon, oboe and flute, it only really got its act together in the ‘classical’ period towards the end of the eighteenth century, and then mainly because of Mozart’s intervention. He produced two masterworks, a quintet and a concerto, which, taken together with a trio and several obbligato parts in his operas, almost guaranteed the instrument’s acceptance into the orchestral family.
Of course it didn’t just flash into existence; it had a previous life as a single reed (mainly) folk instrument called the chalumeau (you can listen to a Telemann sonata below). But what really sealed the clarinet’s rise to success was the appearance of a whole gaggle(?) of virtuosi. In Mozart’s case it was Anton Stadler; then Weber, Mendelssohn and Meyerbeer all wrote works for Heinrich Bärmann, Spohr wrote four concertos for Johann Hermstedt while Brahms came out of retirement to compose two sonatas, a trio and a quintet for Richard Mühlfeld: the clarinet had definitely arrived!
Telemann: Chalumeau Sonata
A list of all 23 Mozart quartets plus some other useful bits and pieces:
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