Too limited a scope to be considered among the first-rank composers, Bernhard Henrik Crusell nonetheless is highly regarded by clarinetists for the elegant and musically satisfying works he composed for the clarinet.
As a skilled player of that instrument, Crusell sought to expand its repertory at a time during which fellow players were capitalizing on the advances made in instrument design. Although virtuosi could play higher, Crusell wrote nothing more demanding than a G in alt. Born to a family of bookbinders in Nystad (a part of Finland where the culture and language were Swedish), Crusell obtained basic instruction from a clarinetist in a regional band. He was thwarted by his parents' lack of interest in music, however, and might have found himself bound to another profession had a patron not taken him as an apprentice to a military band at Sveaborg. At age 16, Crusell traveled to Stockholm and, from 1793 to 1833, he was a clarinetist in the Royal Court Orchestra, principal from 1801 onward. He studied composition with Abbé Vogler, and in 1798 he journeyed to Berlin to study clarinet technique with Franz Tausch, recognized as one of the supreme players of the time. Subsequent travels took him to Paris in 1803 (to study composition) and to Leipzig in 1811 and 1822 to seek publication of his compositions. For his travels, Crusell studied several languages, becoming fluent in German, French, and Italian. During his years as Court Orchestra principal clarinetist, Crusell performed most of the leading works for ensemble and solo clarinet, learning from each of them and forming his own ideas for composition. Among such miscellany as an opera, Lilla slavinnam (The Little Slave Girl), military works for band, a divertimento for oboe and strings, and some songs, Crusell's major works were three clarinet concertos, three clarinet quartets, and a Sinfonia Concertante. His three quartets for clarinet and string trio were intended for the salon rather than the concert state. All are in four movements: in the first and second, especially, the clarinet is essentially a solo instrument. It has been said that Crusell inspired Weber in the composition of his two clarinet concertos, but it might be fairer to suggest that, elsewhere, the influence was mutual.