How dumplings inspired this composer to write a famous clarinet work
I have to be quite honest…I never would have imagined that dumplings played an important (albeit odd) role in clarinet history.
Here’s the story, according to Carl Baermann’s 1882 Erinnerungen eines alten Musikanten (Memories of an Old Musician):
In addition to being prominent clarinet virtuosi, German clarinet Heinrich Baermann (for whom Weber wrote his clarinet concerti) and his son Carl Baermann were also apparently skilled in the kitchen. Specifically, they were known for making delicious dumplings and strudel.
Heinrich and Carl were also good friends with Felix Mendelssohn, and the three met up in Berlin on December 30, 1832 when the Baermanns were in town for some performances.
As it so happened, Mendelssohn was a big fan of dumplings (dampfnudeln) and strudel (Rahmstrudel). In fact, he loved them. He had enjoyed these Austro-Bavarian specialties while in Munich, but he couldn’t find them anywhere in Berlin, where he was currently living. So, when the three were making plans to hang out, Mendelssohn asked the Baermanns to make him some dumplings and strudel.
The Baermanns agreed on one condition – that Mendelssohn must write them a piece.
That piece was the famous Concert Piece No. 1 in F minor, Op. 113 for clarinet, basset horn, and piano. Mendelssohn wrote a draft while the Baermanns cooked, and they read through it that evening.
Just a few days later, the three repeated the arrangement, this time with a different piece – Mendelssohn’s Concert Piece No. 2 in D minor, Op. 114.
While there have undoubtedly been some strange commissions throughout clarinet history, it’s safe to say that this is one of the more unusual ones.