Bernhard Henrik Crusell
By Tel Asiado
The most significant and internationally best-known Finnish Classical composer and indeed, – the outstanding Finnish composer before Sibelius – was Bernhard Henrik Crusell (1775-1838), who rose to a prominent position in the Swedish music world. Born in Nystad, Finland, he lived in Stockholm from 1791onwards and performed his life’s work in Sweden. He made his last visit to his home country in summer 1801, when he performed in Turku and Helsinki. In those days, Finland was undeniably a musical backwater. The centre of musical activities was Turku, where the Turku Society of Music (Turun Soitannollinen Seura), founded in 1790, had done invaluable work in promoting music and had set up an orchestra of its own.
As a result of a war in 1808 and 1809, Sweden ceded Finland to Russia. Helsinki was made capital of the new autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland in 1812. The university was transferred to Helsinki after the great fire of Turku in 1828, spelling an end to Turku’s role as the hub of Finnish music life. Crusell was employed for forty years (1793-1833) playing principal clarinet with the
Hovkapellet (Royal Court Orchestra), and eventually became an internationally celebrated clarinetist based in Stockholm. It is indicative of his reputation that he was for many years the best-paid musician in the entire orchestra. Crusell also attained fame as a renowned clarinet virtuoso, and went to Germany to study and perform in 1798, 1803 and 1811; on the second occasion, his trips extended as far as Paris.
The son of a poor bookbinder, Bernhard Henrik Crusell received his earliest musical education from a clarinetist of the Nyland regimental band at age 8. In 1788 he became a volunteer musician in the military band at Sveaborg in Viapori (today Suomenlinna), the island fortress outside Helsinki, and in 1791 he was transferred to Stockholm where he became a court musician two years later. From 1793 to 1833 he was a clarinetist in the court orchestra. In 1798, he studied the clarinet with Franz Tausch in Berlin and gave concerts there and in Hamburg. In Sweden he became a distinguished soloist, performing concertos and chamber by Peter Winter, L.A. Lebrun, L.-E. Jadin, Krommer, Beethoven, Mozart and others, as well as his own works. Reviews emphasize his tone and in particular his “pianissimo”. About 1800 Crusell played with the reed turned upwards, and later with the reed turned downwards, which favours cantabile playing. After c. 1810 he used an 11-keyed Grenser clarinet.
In Stockholm, Crusell studied music theory and composition with Daniel Britz and Abbe Vogler, intermittently active in Stockholm from 1786 to 1799. In 1803 he studied composition with Berton and Gossec, and the clarinet with Lefevre during a six-month stay in Paris. As well as writing instrumental music for his own use, he also composed works for his wind-instrument colleagues in the court orchestra. In 1811, he made a trip to Leipzig to search for a publisher; this marked his first contact with the Bureau de Musique (A. Kühnel), taken over by C.F. Peters in 1814.
Crusell conducted the military bands in Link every summer from 1818 to 1837 and arranged marches and opera overtures by Weber, Spohr and Rossini for their use; he also composed pieces for male choir. In 1820s he composed solo songs, among others to texts from Frithiof ’s Saga by the well-known Swedish poet Esaias Tegner. His opera Den lilla slafvinnan, first performed in 1824, was given 34 times over the next 14 years.
Crusell’s style follows the generic Viennese Classicism of the period, but he also derived influences from French opera, which he became acquainted with through his job with the court orchestra. Crusell’s major works are the three Clarinet Concertos, which remain in the standard international core repertoire of the instrument and of which numerous recordings, including complete sets, exist. In addition to concertos proper, Crusell also composed other concertante works.
Dating of the concertos
We do not know the precise dates of Crusell’s concertos. The Finnish Crusell expert Fabian Dahlström believes that the works can be dated as follows, with certain reservations:
• Introduction et Air suedois for clarinet and orchestra op. 12 (premiered 1804, later rewritten, published c. 1830);
• Clarinet Concerto No. 3 in B flat major Op. 11 (c. 1807?), later revised, published 1829);
• Sinfonia Concertante in B flat major for clarinet, horn, bassoon and orchestra Op. 3 (premiered 1808, published 1816);
• Clarinet Concerto No. 1 in E flat major Op. 1 (completed 1810, published 1811 or 1812);
• Clarinet Concerto No. 2 in F minor Op. 5 “Grand” (premiered 1815, published c.1818);
• Concertino in B flat major for bassoon and orchestra (1829).
The opus numbering of the clarinet concertos is based on the order of publication, which differs from the probable order of composition. Crusell is known to have performed one of his concertos in 1807, and stylistic and other grounds suggest that this was probably the B flat major Concerto op 11.
The orchestral score of the Air suedois for bassoon and orchestra is lost. Only a piano version has been preserved. Kalevi Aho orchestrated the work in 1990.
Entirely lost works by Crusell include a set of variations for horn and orchestra and two movements of an unfinished horn concerto. Crusell composed these horn works during the first decade of the 19th century.
Crusell’s concertos: influence of Spohr and Weber
The three clarinet concertos are Crusell’s best-known works. Stylistically they hark back to late Viennese Classicism, but also reflect the influence of Louis Spohr and Carl Maria von Weber, whose clarinet concertos provide an obvious point of reference. Crusell composed his concertos for his own use, and the solo parts are very musicianly in character.
Although the music is technically quite demanding, Crusell did not succumb to the temptations of superficial virtuosity. He made effective use of the songful quality of the clarinet, and of its range and capacity for abrupt switches of register.
Clarinet Concerto in F minor Op. 5
The finest of Crusell’s clarinet concertos – and perhaps the high point in his whole career – is the Concerto in F minor, dedicated to Czar Alexander I of Russia. The work shows some affinity with Beethoven. The minor key in itself lends a certain dark tone to the music. The first movement opens with a restrained unison and goes on to unite cantabile and virtuoso elements. The slow movement shows Crusell at his most poetic and serene. The work closes with a lively rondo, which ultimately turns into F major.
Crusell’s other two concertos are somewhat more conventional. The virtuoso element is more pronounced in both works than in the Concerto in F minor. Both have a middle movement with a languorous songfulness that contrasts aptly with the faster, virtuoso opening and finale.
Introduction et Air su´edois
Introduction et Air su´edois for clarinet and orchestra is the work with which, in 1804, Crusell made his Stockholm debut as a composer. It is a lively set of variations on Olof Ahlström’s drinking song Supvisa, well known to Stockholm audiences. In fact the work was first presented as Variationer pa visan: Goda gasse, glaset töm (Variations on the song: ‘Dear boy, empty the glass’), in reference to the ditty’s opening words. Crusell obviously designed the work as a showcase for his instrumental skill.
Sinfonia concertante in B flat major
The Sinfonia concertante in B flat major is a concerto of symphonic proportions for three solo instruments and orchestra. Crusell composed the solo parts for a wind trio in which he himself played the clarinet. From the premiere in 1808 to the end of Crusell’s life, the Sinfonia concertante was Crusell’s most-played work in Stockholm. It was also performed in Leipzig and London.
The bright, expansive opening movement is Crusell’s longest single concerto movement. The slow movement, soulfully songlike, has much beautiful ornamentation The work ends in a rondo with a central passage consisting of variations on a theme borrowed from Luigi Cherubini’s opera Les deux journ´ees.
Concertino in B flat major
Crusell composed the Concertino in B flat major for his son-in-law, bassoonist Frans Preumayr, to play on a tour of Europe in 1829 and 1830. The work is in a fairly free form, with three movements played without pause. The central movement consists of two variations on a theme by Franois Adrien Boieldieu. There is no slow movement proper. The solo score is highly demanding – Preumayr, one of Europe’s leading bassoonists, called the piece his “warhorse”.
Crusell also wrote a considerable body of chamber music. As might be expected, the clarinet is in a central role here too, most particularly in the three clarinet quartets. We do not know exactly when Crusell’s works were written, and even the date of publication is not always certain. It seems evident that his chamber music output, consisting of a dozen works, was written by 1822. The earliest documentary evidence is from 1803, at which time Crusell was either working on or had just completed one of the clarinet quartets.
While Crusell made efficient use of the virtuoso potential of the clarinet in his concertos, the clarinet parts of the quartets are not quite so demanding. In fact, the quartets were intended more for the salon and for proficient amateurs rather than for the concert hall. Nevertheless, the clarinet writing is always idiomatic, and the string instruments defer to the leading role of the clarinet.
The clarinet quartets fall into the normal four-movement structure. The First Clarinet Quartet in E flat major (op. 2, published c. 1811) is slightly different from the others in that the first movement has a slow introduction. The Second Clarinet Quartet in C minor (op. 4, published c. 1817) is more melodic and restrained, which together with the minor key makes the work more subdued than the others. The brightest and most instrumental of the three is the Third Clarinet Quartet in D major (op. 7, published c. 1823), which was also published in a version for flute and strings as op. 8.
Of the remaining works, the closest in idiom to the clarinet quartets is the Divertimento for oboe and string quartet op. 9 (published 1823). This is a single-movement work with three clearly defined sections. The Potpourri (also known as the Concert Trio) for clarinet, horn and bassoon (1814?) shows flashes of true virtuoso brilliance. It draws upon folk music much like Airs su`edois (1814?), a medley for bassoon and piano of Swedish folk tunes. The three Duos for two clarinets (1821?) were popular with clarinetists in their day, providing a well-written lively dialogue for two players to indulge in.
Finnish orchestral music before Sibelius
Although orchestral works were being performed in both Finland and Sweden by the early Finnish composers, the main emphasis was on chamber music and works for solo instrument. Crusell, a practiced and competent orchestrator, wrote three fine concertos for his own instrument, the clarinet, as well as other concertante works. Crusell had firsthand knowledge of the potential of the orchestra from his position in the Royal Court Orchestra in Stockholm. Even if he did not compose orchestral works proper, the overture to his opera Den lilla slafvinnan (The Little Slave Girl, 1824) qualifies as one.
The shift from Classicism to Romanticism was slow in coming to Finland. After Crusell, Finland had to wait until the end of the century for the next composers of veritable stature – Kajanus, Mielck and of course, Sibelius – to emerge. Very little orchestral music was composed in Finland in the interim.
Crusell’s compositions include three clarinet concertos, an air and variations for clarinet and a concertante for clarinet, bassoon and horn. He also wrote chamber music, including three clarinet quartets, an opera Den lilla Slafvinnan (1824, Stockholm) and 12 songs. Cruel was also a brilliant linguist who translated the German, Italian and French operas by Mozart, Rossini and others for the Swedish stage. His debut in 1821 of Mozart’s Le nozzle did Figure contributed to his election to the Greatest League, the leading literary circle in Sweden at this time. He was awarded the Swedish Academy’s Gold Medal in 1837, and was inducted into the Wasa Order. His two manuscript autobiographies are in the Royal Library, Stockholm.
Article on Bernhard Henrik Crusell from Grove Dictionary
Finnish Music Information Centre (FIMIC)
Kimmo Korhonen, Finnish Chamber Music.
ISBN 952-5076-18-0 (Internet version)
(originally printed as ISBN 952-5076-16-4, 2001)
(translated by Jaakko M¨antyj¨ arvi)
(Internet version edited by Aarne Toivonen, December 2001)
Kimmo Korhonen, Finnish Concertos.
ISBN 952-5076-11-3 (1999)
(original version printed in 1995 as ISBN 951-692-362-3)
(translated by c Timothy Binham)
(edited by Aarne Toivonen/MIC, November 1999).
Kimmo Korhonen, Finnish Orchestral Music 1.
(From the origins up to the Second World War)
ISBN 952-5076-08-3 (Internet version, FIMIC 1999)
(originally printed in 1995 as ISBN 951-692-360-7)
(translated by Timothy Binham).
Liner Notes to Crusell Clarinet Concertos, CD by Hyperion CDA66708.
Liner Notes to Crusell Clarinet Concertos No. 1 in E at and No. 3 in B flat, CD by Hyperion CDA66055.
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