In March 1918, Busoni composed the Concertino for Clarinet and dedicated it to Edmondo Allegra, the principal clarinettist of the Tonhalle Orchestra in Zurich. In April of the same year he asked his friend Volkmar Andreae for some rehearsal time to try the new work; the trial took place on 10 May and the piece, which won universal admiration, was scheduled for performance the following season. Since then it has enjoyed an undemonstrative place in the repertoire, still occasionally aired by clarinettists looking for alternatives to their somewhat limited choices of Mozart, Rossini, Weber and Spohr. It is a gentle and amiable work with none of the soulsearching to be detected under the surface of the fourth Sonatina, rather an elegant air of optimism.
The first movement is a relaxed Allegretto sostenuto. The galanteries of the language are not far removed from the parodistic classicism of Strauss's «Ariadne auf Naxos», while the opening theme is cut of the same cloth as one of the last works of Strauss, the Oboe Concerto. A more spirited middle section brings a spiky dialogue between soloist and first violins, after which there is a brief recapitulation.
The second movement, an Andantino, originates in a discarded sketch for a song. In March 1918 Busoni made several settings of texts from Goethe's «Faust», intended no doubt as studies for his own Faustian language. Of these settings, only two were actually completed and only one of these, the 'Lied des Mephistopheles', was published during the composer's lifetime. However, fragments of several others have survived, including a few bars of Gretchen's song, 'Es war ein König in Thule' [...]
Like Berlioz's 'Le Roi de Thulé' «La Damnation de Faust», this too would have been a chanson gothique. Busoni must soon have realized that he had borrowed the accompanying rhythmical figure from Berlioz and would have been forced to admit that it was difficult to compete with that masterpiece. His own idea was incorporated into the Clarinet Concertino and spun out (without any further adherence to the rhythm of Goethe's text) into a lengthy cantilena. The spareness of these opening bars sets the tone for the whole movement, whose idiosyncratic harmonic language later hovers around E minor.
A brief, mildly dramatic recitative leads back to the B flat major of the first movement for a leisurely quasi-development. In the finale, a fanciful minuet, the orchestrino (as Busoni describes his ensemble) is augmented by a triangle. The main theme is closely related to the pompous music to which Baron Ochs first enters in «Der Rosenkavalier» (and that in turn, curiously enough, is borrowed from the 'Fire and Water' music of «Die Zauberflöte»). The marionette-like grandeur of Busoni's minuet later provided exactly the right atmosphere for the entrance of the Duke and Duchess of Parma in Doktor Faust. [...]
Busoni develops the theme briefly and brilliantly, concluding with an expostulation from the soloist and three gentle chords. [BEAUMONT, p. ]