This month you can hear Mozart's works played on instruments that are practically extinct! By Jason Catlett
Mozart wrote many important works for instruments that have dropped out of common use, superseded by more technically advanced substitutes. Who plays the glass harmonica any more? But this month fans of orchestral music can hear top soloists on two now-rare instruments that would have looked normal to him: the fortepiano and the basset clarinet.
If Mozart saw a concert grand today he might think of it as his familiar fortepiano on steroids: longer, wider, louder, with lots more notes, a large mass-produced metal frame and hi-tech wires. His artisanal fortepiano required less finger pressure to play, and placed less distance between him and the orchestras he conducted from the keyboard. When Richard Egarr tours with the Australian Chamber Orchestra this month
, he'll do this too, on a harpsichord for several Baroque works, and on a fortepiano for Mozart's 1782 Piano Concerto No. 12. The widely revered director of the Academy of Ancient Music has chosen a model following the trend-setting design of Johann Stein, whom Mozart admired. Don't miss Egarr's pre-performance talk: he's like a David Attenborough for early music. And did we mention that in the Vivaldi Violin Concerto the ACO's Satu Vänskä will play a Stradivarius?
Mozart's clarinet concerto is among the best known in classical music, a universal favourite. One problem: he didn't originally write it for the clarinet, but for a longer instrument called the basset clarinet, favoured by his virtuoso friend Anton Stadler. It was not common even in Mozart's day, and after him was largely ignored. It has four lower notes, so adaptations for the higher range of the extensively-keyed modern clarinet became standard. When the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra performs the concerto this month
, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra clarinetist Craig Hill will join them on a "rich and creamy" basset clarinet he commissioned based on recent research. He only ever uses it in this piece and the Mozart clarinet quintet. "The extra few notes make a huge difference to the shape of the melodies," he says. While experimenting with it he found that "by closing the last vent hole with my knee I could get yet one note lower, and there are just a few places where I do this in the concerto." Anything to get closer to Mozart.