Fragmentary concerto movement K.584b (621b)

'Basset-horn and basset-clarinet'

It is said that basset-horn was one of Mozart's favorite instruments as well as clarinet. Clarinet seems to have fully understood by us as it is used broadly today. But it will be only vague understanding about basset-horn itself even if you know that it is the instrument which freemason liked. Besides it is requested to understand a difference of basset-horn and basset-clarinet. But the most important thing is of course that the position of these instruments in Mozart's music. In this report, I will consider definition of basset-horn, Mozart's first experience of basset-horn, his devotion to basset-horn, basset-horn concerto draft, device of basset-clarinet by Stadler, renewal of concerto draft to basset-clarinet, position of basset-horn and basset-clarinet in Mozart.

1. What is Basset-horn

The following is the definition of basset-horns excerpted from "The New Grove Dictionary of Music & Musicians" introduced by Nicholas Shackleton.
Woodwind instrument; a member of the clarinet family, normally now pitched in F. A distinctive feature is the extension of its compass downwards to written c (sounding F), a major 3rd below the lowest note of the conventional clarinet. In most early examples, this is achieved without inconvenience by the curious 'book' or 'box' in which the extra length of tube makes three excursions before emerging into a rather flamboyant metal bell.
The origin of the basset-horn, like that of clarinet itself, is not as clear as is widely believed; it is generally thought to be established by a few instruments which bear on the 'book' the inscription 'ANT et MICH MAYRHOFER INVEN. & ELABOR. PASSAVII' and which are thought to have been made in Passau in the 1760s by the Mayrhofers (similar instruments were made by others). The simplest of these sickle-shaped basset-horns (which may predate the Mayrhofer instrument) has a mere five keys: thumb-keys for e and c (no d was possible), a fish-tail key for f/c''(playable with either hand uppermost) and the two obligatory keys on the upper joint. Thus the state of development is equivalent to that of the three-key clarinet.
The basset-horn in G, a late 18th-century instrument, is the equivalent in the clarinet family of the C bass chalumeau, the lowest of the three instruments for which the trios for three chalumeaux by J. C. Graupner were written; that is to say, there was probably a direct link from the bass chalumeau to the basset-horn. The question as to whether a lower-pitched clarinet was made and then extended in range by the invention of the 'book', or whether a chalumeau of downwards extended range had already been devised, is certainly not answered by the well-known claim of Mayrhofer, particularly as to many makers have made exaggerated claims as to their innovatory achievements. In short, the history of the lower-pitched clarinets and chalumeaux in relation to the basset-horn is an open question.
A crook for basset-horn first appears in the last decade of the 18th century, and a straight form of it was invented around the beginning of the 19th. It seems that only the instrument in F was made in the 19th century. A number of basset-horns survive, although the fact that many are in good condition suggests that they were never extensively used, as one may also judge from the comparative scarcity of music written for the instrument.

2. Mozart's first experience of basset-horn

Leopold Mozart reports that Wolfgang has composed a piece for 2 Basset-horns in early days shortly after the invention of the instrument in "Verzeichniß alles desjenigen, was dieser 12jährige Knabe seit seinem 7ten Jahre componiert, und in originali kann aufgezeiget werden".

This means that there were basset-horns in Salzburg at that time but Mozart had no further chance to use the instrument in Salzburg days. We can find only one other basset-horn piece by Michael Haydn in Salzburg 1:

If an assumption is possible that the piece of Michael might have been composed in 1767, even though the date is still unknown, basset-hornists could not have been member of court orchestra but visitors from other city to Salzburg whom the composers offered new pieces. Anyway we cannot know how Mozart captured the charm of basset-horns at that time because we have no music evidence.

3. Mozart's devotion to basset-horn

In Vienna period music for basset-horn increases suddenly after Mozart met Anton Stadler (1753-1812) and devoted into the instrument. Anton and his brother Johann (1755-1804) were distinguished in Vienna as musicians on the clarinet and basset-horn. They were in the service of Prince Galizin, the Russian envoy to the Viennese court, and they played frequently in the concerts of the Viennese Society of Composers. The contact intensified after the clarinettists joined the freemason's lodge and the two friends, Mozart and Stadler, often played music together in the circle of the lodge.

Basset-horn music will be categorized into three genres that are opera, music pieces for freemason and house music for circle of Gottfried von Jaquin, etc. The purpose of effect will be generally increasing solemnity of the scene of opera, increasing mildness and thickness of accord and paralleling in obligato by good contrast with voice part. We recognize that it is not only in the opportunity of freemason where basset-horn music is played from the following lists easily2:

It is noted that instrument in G was used for only one case and that of F was for others all.

4. Basset-horn concerto draft

The existence of concerto movement in G K.584b(621b) for basset-horn seems in different standing point from the mentioned above. This music is the draft of clarinet concerto in A K.622 but it has not been explained to whom and to which opportunity it was composed or what is the history of the composition. For the first question it will be sure that this basset-horn concerto was written for Anton Stadler because he is distinguished for the instrument which is great favorite of Mozart. For the second question man may consider that the opportunity is at the same time of K.437 because the instrument for both music is in G. But it is not likely that house music and orchestra music are composed together for the same purpose and at the same time.

As the concert might be postponed by some reason Mozart stopped continuing the draft after bar 179 for a while.

5. Device of basset-clarinet by Stadler

Stadler's clarinet tone must have been very expressive, for a contemporary critic (1785) praised his playing; "one would never have thought that a clarinet could imitate the human voice to such perfection." In addition, Stadler deserves commendation for his technical improvements of the clarinet and basset-horn. To the basset-horn he added the c-sharp and d-sharp keys, and he extended the clarinet down through the half-steps e-flat, d, c-sharp, and c. Because these supplementary pitches reach into the register of the basset-horn, Jirí Kratochvíl named this extended instrument the "basset-clarinet" in 1956. Therefore Mozart might call the clarinet "Stadler's clarinet." Please note that written c is sounding F or G in basset-horn but sounding A or B flat in basset-clarinet.

It is around this time when Mozart composed several pieces for Stadler's clarinet3.

6. Renewal of concerto draft to basset-clarinet

It is not hard to imagine that Mozart was requested and willingly accepted to write a concerto to introduce the new instrument and its inventor. He surely remembered and reviewed the former draft of the concerto for this purpose. He read bars 1-179 for basset-clarinet in A which had been written for basset-horn in G (This was easy for transposing instruments but he read orchestra part as well). From bar 180 he continued under notation in A without any clef changes. (As usual Mozart did not write clefs for each page except the first page, such complicated situation happened.) As the existing last page is up to bar 199, the remaining pages might be used for fair copy of K.622 because they are written in A as same as the final key of K.622. On the other hand the last page of bar 199 is belonging to the bifolium including a part written in G. Whether the following changes for solo instrument had been done formerly or were done at this stage cannot be estimated. I would like to point out the importance of ink content analysis for effectiveness on this kind of investigation.

The fair copy of K.622 means the autograph manuscript of clarinet concerto (lost today) which should be full made of basset-tone for Stadler's instrument. As a review (Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung, Leipzig, 1802) of the edition of parts published by Breitkopf and Härtel states "that Mozart has written this concerto for a clarinet that goes down to c." And "even now clarinets that go down to c are rare and that one owes thanks to the publisher for these registral transfers and alterations for the ordinary clarinet", the premiere was to be at least using basset-tones4.

On April 26, 1791 "Rond for Soprano with obligato Basset-horn by Mozart" was performed in accordance with Prague concert bill. Even though Köchel 6th edition did not give any number for this Rondo, it stated that K.581a might be a draft of the Rondo. Moreover Köchel 6th edition also stated that K.581a might have a connection to K.621b.Tomislav Volek (1959) claimed that it was none other than the rondò of Vitellia, "Non più di fiori vaghe catene," from the second act of Tito. (NMA agrees with him.) Alan Tyson's paper study also proves that the allegro portion of this piece shows different paper type which means that this portion is the earliest part of the opera and the start of the composition of opera is earlier than that have been generally believed. Stadler may be invited to play the basset-horn for Josepha Duschek's concert.

7. Position of basset-horn and basset-clarinet in Mozart

Had Stadler's new clarinet replaced conventional basset-horn? The answer is "No." The clarinets which Stadler invented were in A or in B flat where basset-horns were in G or in F. Both instruments go down to written c as described above. Mozart had been preferring basset-tone of clarinet family but practically it was limited from the selection of keys. Now Mozart becomes free from the selection of keys thanks to basset-horn and basset-clarinet! He might expect much to have new possibilities of composition considering this fact.

But Mozart could have only several months remained. After he applied basset-clarinet in B flat and basset-horn in F for Tito, next piece was his final work at all. We must to say that it is symbolic and impressive to have particular warmth of Mozart's beloved instrument in his Requiem.

Fragmentary concerto movement K.584b(621b)

The autograph manuscript is owned by the Rychenberg Foundation and held in the Stadtbibliothek Winterthur, Switzerland5. It consists of 24 pages of 12-staff oblong-format (Querformat) with score-like unfinished 199 bars. Solo part is through written, 1st violin and bass are partly written as accompaniment, and middle part of voice is sketched in bar 15, bar 25ff, bar 31ff, 39ff, bar 64ff, bar 94ff and bar 128ff. After bar 180 it seems to be written later and to be changed into A major without any indications with sharp pen top.

Alfred Einstein claimed that this unfinished piece was started between October and December 1789 and gave the number K3.584b. On the other hand Köchel 6th edition gave K6.621b just before clarinet concerto in A K.622 because they believed that Mozart usually used draft for the completion without longer time interval. But Tyson proved the paper type one or two years before than K.622 up to 1787. This case might be as same case as K.503 and K.595. But for this piece we must have two dates. One for the version in G is before the innovation of basset-clarinet, at least before K.581 (September 29, 1789). The other for the version in A is just before K.622 (the beginning of October 1791).

The followings are rough comparison between the draft and the completed basset-clarinet reconstruction version based on NMA:

The followings are portions that are same in the final version:

Basset-horn Concerto Movement in G K.584b(621b) (draft) (Bars 1-179)

Instruments: CH1: Corno di Bassetto in g (Clarinet), CH2: Violino I, CH3: Violino II, CH4: Viole, CH5: Flauto I (without notes), CH6: Flauto II (without notes), CH7: Corni in g (without notes), CH8: Violoncello, CH9: Basso
Source: Facsimile in NMA V/14/4, pp.165-175
Basset-clarinet Concerto Movement in A K.584b(621b) (draft) (Bars 1-199)

Instruments: CH1: Stadlers Klarinette in a (Clarinet), CH2: Violino I, CH3: Violino II, CH4: Viole, CH5: Flauto I (without notes), CH6: Flauto II (without notes), CH7: Corni in a (without notes), CH8: Violoncello, CH9: Basso
Source: Facsimile in NMA V/14/4, pp.165-176

1Charles H. Sherman and T. Donley Thomas: Johann Michael Haydn (1737-1806) A Chronological Thematic Catalogue of His Work, Pendragon Press, Stuyvesant New York, 1993
212 Duets for 2 Horns K.487(496a) ['86.7.27, Vienna] had been believed for Basset-horn in AMA but as g''' was playable by contemporary Natural Horn NMA decides it was for Horn.
3NMA V/14/4 p.VIII. In case of K.581 it is proved from the fact that written c appears in Klavierauszug version in 1809.
4Otto Kronthaler pointed out in his CD (ambitus 97933) that the alternation from basset-tone to higher octave in the printed version proves unsatisfactory finish of the trial result of Stadler's instrument by Mozart himself so that Mozart made alternation to higher octave. But I cannot agree with him because we do not find further such evidence.
5The present place of the autograph manuscript is kindly informed by Mr. Harry Joelson-Strohbach, Head of Special Collections Stadtbibliothek Winterthur. The author thanks to his courtesy and introduces the internet site of the library where you will find a colour reproduction of the beginning of the manuscript (Please click "Musik").


Author: Hideo Noguchi
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(Originally uploaded: 2000/2/13, Last updated: 2001/7/11)