From the Beginnings to Glinka




In the process of Westernization in Russia, Peter the Great (1672–1725) initiated a number of reforms which laid the groundwork for the development of clarinet playing and clarinet music in Russia.  After having founded St Petersburg in 1703, Peter the Great passed a decree that every military division should have its own wind band in 1711 (Maistrenko 2017, 23). Initially featuring trumpets and percussion, soon oboes and bassoons were added. Peter the Great started to invite musicians from abroad, mainly from Germany, who were tasked with instructing Russian soldiers and their children in band instrument playing as part of a military education. Whereas Peter the Great’s main focus was on reforming the military, it was Empress Anna Ioannovna (1693–1740) who invited the first opera companies to Russia. After 1731 she founded Russia’s first court ball orchestra in St Petersburg. The fashion of inviting foreign opera companies continued under Catherine II (1729–1796). The first documented evidence of a clarinet in Russia originates from this period, in the middle of the 18th century. Johann Adam Hiller mentions a clarinet performance in Russia as early as in 1759 in the St Petersburg court orchestra (Petersburger Kapelle) with the German clarinetist (Johann) Joseph Beer (Kroll 1965, 8). It is, however, not proven that Beer, later known as a clarinet virtuoso and composer, appeared there initially already as a clarinetist, as he was originally a trumpet player in the military band and probably only appeared as a clarinetist later on. Other early documented clarinet appearances were given by oboists of the Imperial Orchestra: Christopher-Benjamin Lankammer, Carl Compagnion, Joseph Grimm and Georg Brunner (Rice 1992, 156). 


Foreign Virtuosi

After the end of the 18th century, leading clarinet virtuosi made concert tours to Russia, mainly to St Petersburg and Moscow. These foreign instrumental masters were paid extraordinarily well, which persuaded them to undertake the long journey, despite the rather uncomfortable travel conditions at that time. Besides the entertainment value for the aristocracy, these visits also played an important role in the recognition of the clarinet and its repertoire in Russia. The following concert tours to Russia, if not others, have been documented: Johann Joseph Beer made recurring visits to Russia between 1778 and 1792; Anton Stadler played in Russia in 1794, and Bernard Henrik Crusell made concert tours to Russia in 1801 and 1814 (Weston 1971, 34-37; 55; 70). Moreover, Crusell dedicated his Clarinet Concerto №2  to Tsar Alexander I in 1817 (Rice 2017, 49). The Portuguese clarinetist José Avelino Canongia performed in St Petersburg in 1819 (Weston 1977, 66). Heinrich Baermann visited Russia between 1820 and 1823 and performed together with his son Carl Baermann in 1833 in St Petersburg. The critics were highly positive: “Never had such clarinet playing be heard” (Weston 1971, 139-140; 145). The Swedish clarinetist Gustav Adner, a student of Crusell, performed in Russia in 1833 (Maistrenko 2017, 66). The Belgian Joseph Blaes visited Russia in 1841/1842 and in 1847 (Weston 1971, 192-201). Some foreign clarinetists accepted employment in the Russian court and stayed for years playing in smaller ensembles and newly-founded orchestras such as the Italian Pietro Fornari 1822-1836 (Maistrenko 2017, 65). The most famous Italian clarinetist in this context is Ernesto Cavallini, who arrived in Russia for the first time in 1847 (Weston 1971, 203). In 1862 Cavallini became the first clarinet professor at the new St Petersburg conservatory and returned to Italy in 1868.  The concerts of those foreign virtuosi commonly took place in aristocratic circles. However, it was not a given that Russian clarinet players could hear the travelling virtuosi performing at the court. Attending those performances would have facilitated to getting acquainted with the clarinet repertoire or with new compositions, to see new playing techniques or recent instrument developments. The best-known Russian clarinetists from this era were Mikhail Tushinsky in the Imperial theatre in St Petersburg and Petr Titov in the Moscow Imperial theatre. Until the end of the 19th century, two thirds of the clarinetists in Russian orchestras were German or Czech (Maistrenko 2017, 61). It is also worth mentioning the special case of Ivan Müller in this context. Born in Estonia into a German family, Müller pursued his career mainly outside of Russia. He made a critical contribution to the development of the instrument with his 13-key clarinet. Before going abroad, Müller was Imperial chamber musician in St Petersburg from 1800 to 1807, playing either clarinet or bassoon (Weston 1971, 159).
(Weston 1971; Maistrenko 2017; Rice 2017)


Mikhail Glinka 

The most famous Russian clarinet composition from this period is the Trio Pathétique for clarinet, bassoon and piano (1832) by Mikhail Glinka (1804—1857). Being a composer was not yet a recognized profession in Russia at that time. Composers often belonged to the aristocracy or were offspring of wealthy families close to the court. These composers were either amateurs, or worked in service of the church or court. Glinka was likewise educated in an aristocratic school in St Petersburg, where he had access to private music lessons and the possibility to attend concerts. Among other concerts, he might have listened in his early youth to a performance of Crusell’s Clarinet Quartet (Maistrenko 2017, 72). Glinka went on an extensive journey to Italy, took composition lessons at the Milan conservatory and composed his famous Trio there in 1832. The first performance took place the same year in Milan with Glinka on the piano and musicians from La Scala, clarinetist Mossitro and bassoonist Conti (Hoeprich 2008, 358). Back in Russia, the Trio was not published until 1878. The first Russian performance was in Moscow only in 1892. The clarinet was still seen as an orchestra instrument in Russia at the time that Glinka composed his Trio Pathétique. The clarinet was played either on a technically high level in the opera orchestras, mainly by foreigners, or on a simpler level by serfs and soldiers in military wind bands. In the middle of the 19th century there was not yet a tradition for the clarinet as a chamber music instrument established in Russia, neither among local performers, nor among composers.