At the last concerto concert in which I took part at Rugby School, a few months before I left in 2017, I played the adagio from Mozart’s clarinet concerto, accompanied for the first time by a full orchestra.
For me it was a very special occasion. As this is the world’s most famous piece for the instrument, a clarinettist’s first performance of it is naturally a memorable milestone. In my case it was all the more so, as Mozart was my father’s favourite composer, and of all his 626 works, this was the one which Dad liked most.
To him it was a masterpiece of nostalgia. Not a sad mourning of times past, but a wistful affection for them – the contentment of someone who’s led a full life.
In Fifty Miles with my Dad I describe his visit to Rugby to hear it:
Over a pre-concert meal our minds returned to the time when I’d asked about his favourite composer. He’d said he felt there was a special quality in music composed for a specific performer, and that the clarinet concerto came to mind as a prime example, written for the clarinettist Anton Stadler.
Having had the thrill of friends perform parts I’d written for them, my ears pricked up when my clarinet teacher, Mr Steve Morris, told me that Mozart’s work had been scored for the basset clarinet, this being the instrument Stadler played. When he let me have a go on one I could see it was more difficult than the usual B flat or A clarinets. It had more valves, giving it a wider range, but they made it longer and heavier to handle.
“It’s coming back into fashion now,” he said. “If you want to show what the piece sounds like on the basset you can borrow mine.” With practice I got the hang of it, and so I took him up on his offer.
On the night I didn’t know whether I’d make a complete hash of it, but as I took my place at the front of the stage I saw Dad in the audience, in his usual seat, wearing the same yellow cashmere scarf that he’d lent me when we went walking. So it was indeed a nostalgic moment, and my memory of the occasion will always be sweet.
Adagio from Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A major, K.622, May de la Rue soloist with the Bliss Sinfonia, Richard Tanner conducting
Fifty Miles with my Dad, published by Sarnia House in April 2020, is available in bookshops (subject to coronavirus), with net proceeds in aid of the ‘Fifty Miles with my Dad’ Fund at Suffolk Community Foundation.*
*The ‘Fifty Miles with my Dad’ Fund is an endowment managed by Suffolk Community Foundation and established in 2009 by the fundraising walk described in the book of the same name. Grants are made from the income to charities and community groups supporting those with disability, the infirm and the vulnerable.