Concerto for clarinet and orchestra in B flat major
Concerto for clarinet and orchestra in E flat major
Concerto for two clarinets and orchestra in A major
Jan Václav Knéžek (1745-1806) was born in Prague five years before J.S. Bach’s death. He was among the first composers who wrote for the new sounds of the clarinet. He found himself included in the company of many highly gifted musicians of Bohemian extraction who also were to suffer the fate of musical obscurity. Knezek’s life and works have been only recently studied in fragmentary fashion. He was a well-known clarinetist in Prague who composed for his own instrument, but he also performed as a bassoonist, leading a double career that was not unusual for his day. We have no information about who his teachers were, but know that he had lived in the domain of the Dussek family at the Upper Kleinseitner Place which was a good address.
He performed in various royal orchestras and also in church events on both instruments. He was a member of the Count Thun Orchestra which engaged him as a clarinetist in their wind section. We know that Jan Václav Knéžek composed for the church since these compositions are being uncovered in monasteries in Bavaria and Switzerland. His connection with the Thun Orchestra was important for the rest of his life since it was there he became acquainted with Wenzel Stich-Punto. Knezek occasionally performed with Stich-Punto and may explain why he fled with him to the Holy Roman Empire.
Perhaps the move prompted him to change his name to Knischeck. In the mid-seventies Stich-Punto and Knezek parted company. Knéžek hooked up with the oboist Franz Hanisch and wandered through Europe for several years performing with a musical band. In Regensburg the local prince gave Knéžek new employment and he became a well-respected musician with the prince’s orchestra. In 1791 the prince honored him with the separate payment of one hundred florins for compositions of table music.
Among his works are found the clarinet concerto in B flat major completed on December 8, 1788 which was an interesting piece since it reminds us of an early Mozart, both its slow movements and final rondo were inspired by the compositions by Franz Hanisch and Michel Yost. In his clarinet concerto in E flat major Knéžek shows us a mature classical composer and most likely belongs to his later works. The content suggests Joseph Haydn especially in the rondo section. In his double concerto for two clarinets in A major the composer uses the term “concertante” which was originally written for clarinet d’amore no longer in use. The technically demanding passages and wealth of beautiful ideas puts Knezek in good company with his contemporaries.