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Clarinet History Story Time: When Heinrich Bärmann was questioned by the police

I took this photo during the Carnevale di Venezia 2017.

When clarinetists think of Heinrich Bärmann, the famous Weber clarinet concerti usually come to mind.

But did you know that he once had an unfortunate encounter with a Venetian canal, a petty concert organizer, and the Venice Police?

This tale is recounted in the English translation of Louis Spohr’s autobiography. This entry is from October 12, 1816, and this story was shared by the German musician Aiblinger who had been living in Venice for the past sixteen years:

“Count Herizo, a very rich nobleman, who, during the winter, gives a concert at his house every week, to which he frequently invites as many as two hundred persons, besought Bärmann, through a third party, to play at one of them. The latter had himself already announced a public concert, and presuming that it would be greatly to his disadvantage if he played elsewhere before, he declined the invitation, but promised to play after his own concert. On the same day, however, Count Herizo gave one of his customary grand concerts in which “the Creation” was performed, I believe for the first time in Venice; and Bärmann had so thin an attendance, that to cover the expenses of the concert he was obliged to add forty francs from his own pocket. Nevertheless a week afterwards, Count Herizo repeated his invitation to Bärmann, who now, however, demanded a gratification of twelve Louis d’or. After much debate this was at length agreed to. But Bärmann shortly after was apprised that it was intended to play off a hoax upon him. To avoid this he wrote anew to decline the invitation, and went on a pleasure excursion with Harles to the mainland. Upon his return, a friend of Count Herizo’s came to inquire of him the reason why he would not play, and on being told, he assured him upon his honour that nothing of the kind was intended, and that Bärmann had not the least to fear; upon which the latter gave his promise to appear at the next concert. He was very politely received by Count Herizo, and the music began. After the space of an hour, when six pieces had been performed, Bärmann was curious to know when his turn would come; he therefore asked the loan of a programme from his neighbour, and found at the end of the whole of the pieces of music, which at least would last two hours more, the following words: “If time will permit, Herr Bärmann will also perform a concerto on the clarinet.” His rage may be imagined. Count Herizo is reported then to have said to him at the end of the concert, in a loud tone of voice: “We have no time to hear you this evening, but we shall perhaps another time!” and in this manner he was cheated of his pecuniary gratification. Bärmann immediately slunk out, but in so doing was so unfortunate as to mistake the way, and instead of taking the passage leading out upon the street, plumped right into the canal. Fortunately the gondoliers plying near the spot came to his assistance, and soon pulled him out. Half-perished with cold, and highly exasperated, he returned home. Next morning he was summoned before the police by Count Herizo. The director of police, after the matter had been explained to him by Bärmann, had nevertheless courage sufficient to justify Bärmann, and to point out to Count Herizo the rudeness of his conduct. Under such circumstances, however, Bärmann thought it advisable to hasten his departure, especially as a suspicious-looking fellow had been making inquiries about the hours of his going out of evenings.”

So there you have it – even historical clarinet virtuosi experience life’s ups and downs (sometimes quite literally)!