Domenico Cimarosa was just seven when his father, a mason, fell from scaffolding during the construction of a Naples’ palace and subsequently died. To support the family his mother began doing laundry at the local monastery, while the attached school took Cimarosa on as a student. Cimarosa’s intelligence soon attracted the attention of the monastery’s organist, Father Polcano, who initiated his musical education and after several years supported his protégé’s scholarship application to one of Naples’ top conservatoires.
From these humble beginnings, Cimarosa soon became one of his generation’s best-known composers. His first opera was performed when he was just 23 and Cimarosa later held a series of prestigious and well-remunerated musical posts including Court Composer for Catherine the Great in Russia and Kapellmeister to the Holy Roman Emperor.
Cimarosa is now remembered primarily for his substantial contribution to opera; his other works, including the sonatas on which this concerto is based, have been largely ignored. In fact, very little is known about the almost 90 single- movement keyboard sonatas Cimarosa composed, although it has been hypothesized that they were written for pedagogical purposes, as many focus on a specific musical ‘problem’.
In 1942, Australian composer Arthur Benjamin selected four of Cimarosa’s sonatas as the basis for a concerto for oboe and strings, and its later adaptation for clarinet. Charming and elegant, this set of movements presents a microcosm of the inventive lyricism that fuelled Cimarosa’s success in much larger-scale forms.