Strauss – Duett-Concertino for Clarinet, Bassoon with String Orchestra and Harp

by Max Derrickson

Richard Strauss     (b Munich, 11 June 1864; Garmisch-Partenkirchen, 8 September 1949)

Duett-Concertino for Clarinet, Bassoon with String Orchestra and Harp
1. Allegro moderato
2. Andante
3. Rondo. Allegro ma non troppo

The Duett-Concertino was completed in 1946, in the so-called “Indian Summer” of Strauss’ life.  All that would remain to be composed were his Four Last Songs.  The Duett stands in contrast to his archetypal and bombastic tone poems from his younger days (Ein Heldenleben, Don Juan, Til Eulenspiegel, and the like) for which he was famous.  The Duett exudes an autumnal air.  Although it retains some of Strauss’ hallmark chromaticism and rich orchestration, the Duett evokes a Classical simplicity; one can even imagine, at times, some of the Duett coming from the pen of Mozart.

The Duett’s introduction opens with gentle and richly harmonic murmurings emerging from the strings and sets a fairy tale-like stage for the incredibly lovely and unfettered theme played by the clarinet.  This is a melody that is arguably one of Strauss’ most lyrically uninhibited.  The clarinet continues to meander rhapsodically
[. . .]
The story in question is a recast of Beauty and the Beast:  a lovely, dancing princess (clarinet) is startled by a cavorting bear (bassoon); the two finally dance together, and when the princess kisses the bear he turns into a prince.

Regardless of an underlying program, the winsomeness of the Duett lies, in large part, with its lighthearted tunefulness and the wonderfully extreme contrast between the two wind instruments.  But there is no lack of Strauss’ masterfulness; a close listening will reveal the fascinating meticulousness with which Strauss manipulates the themes.  Though the three movements play without break, they are delineated mostly by the soloists and their themes: the first movement is the princess’s song, the second is the bear’s, and the third
[. . .]
The pace then steps up, and as the dancing commences, themes morph and conjoin (and for fun, Strauss references some good, old fashioned Viennese waltzes), ending with a breezy and joyous skip into the sunset.