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Unsolved mysteries of clarinet history

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, it should come as no surprise to learn that I love clarinet history. I love learning about the people, places, and things that make the clarinet so great, and I especially enjoy learning about some of the more unusual bits of clarinet history.

Although we certainly know quite a bit about the clarinet, there are several unresolved mysteries of clarinet history!

Here are just a few:

  • The clarinet’s true creator. Although the development of the clarinet is attributed to Johann Christoph Denner, we have no definitive proof that he was the instrument’s creator. While it’s obvious he and his sons did indeed make clarinets, there are no documents proving that he was the first to do so. It’s quite possible that one of his contemporaries in Nuremberg was the clarinet’s true creator, but we might not ever know.
  • Who was Mr. Charles? Our first documented clarinet soloist was the shadowy Mr. Charles, sometimes called Charles the Hungarian. We know that Karolyi (Charles in Hungarian) traveled from Hungary to Dublin, where he performed the first recorded clarinet solo in 1742. Who was he? Why did he travel so far? How was this Hungarian musician introduced to the German-invented clarinet? We’ll need to find some more documents for these answers.
  • The missing Mozart manuscript. After Mozart wrote our beloved Clarinet Concerto in A Major, K. 622 in 1791 for Anton Stadler, the manuscript went missing. Stadler had embarked on a concert tour, so it’s quite possible he lost lost or even peddled the priceless manuscript to pay his debts (after all, he was not the most scrupulous of people). So, whatever happened to the manuscript? This remains one of the greatest unresolved mysteries of clarinet history.
  • The possibility of a third Weber concerto. The wonderful works by Carl Maria von Weber will ever remain a staple in the clarinet repertory for their brilliant virtuosity and lyrical phrases. However, in a diary entry from 1815, Weber wrote, “Worked…on clarinet concerto for Hermstedt.” While many historians believe that he was referring to his Grand Duo Concertante (or possibly used the musical material within this piece), others believe that Weber did indeed write a third concerto which has since gone missing.
  • Did Rossini actually write his Introduction, Theme, and Variations? One of our standard showpieces might have actually been written by someone else! While there is some evidence to prove this theory, we will have to assume Rossini is the composer until we have more definitive evidence.

What other unsolved mysteries of clarinet history do you know?

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