Clarinet Piece

Within the act of composing music, there is a constant quest to discover something fresh and unique. With each step of this process there are countless decisions to be made.
This series of blogs will take you through several steps in this process.In this first installment of Clarinet Piece, I’ll run you through my process of choosing what instruments, if any I to write for to accompany the clarinet.

When one is deciding what to write for, are we talking about something traditional, like a clarinet sonata or something more 21st century like an electro acoustic work? My personal preference is to write for purely acoustic instruments. I find writing for people skilled at playing these acoustic instruments very rewarding. There is something about having the human connection to bring ones written notes to life as opposed to synthesized and computer generated sounds.

Another relatively new development, which had its origins in the 20th century, was to depart from the traditional ensemble such as the string quartet, concerto and and turn to a variety of instrumental combinations. Examples of this are most notably the Pierrot ensemble( an ensemble with the same instrumentation as Shoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire, which is comprised of flute/piccolo, clarinet/bass clarinet, violin/viola, cello and piano accompanying the voice.The Pierrot ensemble also has players double instruments. Other chamber combinations can be for like instruments such as bassoon quartets ,trombone choirs and all sorts of hybrid combinations. Nowadays, choirs of like instruments have become quite common in colleges and universities and they are cropping up all over the place in the form of amateur ensembles like flute and clarinet choirs.

Professional players or academic professors, tend to want to be be in the spotlight and so combinations that feature the clarinet are preferable. Those traditional combinations are especially suitable for the professional soloist. In striving for the highest quality of work, it would make sense that I would expect to have a professional performance of my music.
So a list of typical traditional combinations for clarinet might include: a clarinet sonata ( for clarinet and piano or unaccompanied clarinet) , a clarinet quintet ( for clarinet and string quartet), a clarinet concerto ( for clarinet and orchestra and the less traditional clarinet and band or wind ensemble).

Now we need to narrow down this list. We should immediately rule out the concerto. Unless one is lucky enough to get a sizable commission, I wouldn’t waste countless hours writing such a work. Just about every large and midsize city tends to have at least one string quartet and some universities have quartets in residence. Once again, you could secure a commission, send a piece around on spec, or you might have friends in a quartet who might need a new piece by a local composer to fill out their program. In my case, I’ll be writing a quartet for saxophone and string quartet later this year, and don’t want to press my luck.
Now we’re down to the accompanied verses the unaccompanied sonata. By now one might deduce that the less performers involved the more likely one can get a piece performed.
So should I choose the solo clarinet as my instrumentation? Not so fast. The unaccompanied work seems to be the go- to combination these days. Such a combination has been a kind of testing ground for extended techniques such as key clicks, humming and playing, multiphonics and lip glissandi. But I’m going to choose a clarinet and piano piece and here’s why: One reason is my composition history. Over the past few years I’ve written several solo piece that were performed and performed well. What I find is lacking in these sorts of works is a sense of perspective The piano offers the composer many of the things an orchestra can do so such as harmony and texture. And, one final decision; I could choose to have the clarinetist double or triple on another member or the clarinet family. But, being that this piece isn’t commissioned, I’d rather keep things tidy and stick just with just the clarinet.
So have made my first big decision; a work for clarinet and piano.
There are a bunch of other decisions to be made before I actually begin to write down any notes.
We’ll cover that in the next installment of ‘Clarinet Piece’.

Visions of Harriot Tubman for Organ

The Visions of Harriot Tubman- sample – Organ
A couple of years ago,the US Postal Service decided to put the image of the famous African American , Harriot Tubman,on one of its currency denominations. I was struck by the reaction to this decision, and troubled in particular by the negative responses. I decided to read up on Ms Tubman and found her to be a remarkable woman; among other things one of the key figures of the Underground Railroad in the mid- 19th century. Ms Tubman, a deeply religious woman ,claimed that God spoke to her, urging her to lead runaway slaves to freedom.

This inspired me to compose my Visions of Harriot Tubman. In this work the music grows organically emerging into a kind of paraphrase of the African American spiritual Let my People Go.This was the tune that Harriot Tubman sang as a signal to the slaves she would lead to freedom. As the piece progresses, the music travels in phases from the hymn tune, to jazz ,to blues as so forth. The registrations and edits were by organist David Gay of Tucson, Arizona.
The Visions of Harriot Tubman was composed in 2016.

And the Idols Shall Utterly Pass…

Organ Prelude 2016- 5:31 versionCommentary:
And the Idles Shall Utterly Pass Away is a tone poem based on biblical verses from the Book of
Isaiah (2:18). For me,the wonderfully varied imagery of the text lent itself to a variety of musical moods and gestures. The seemingly limitless timbrel possibilities of the organ greatly enhanced my ability to bring these images to life.
The formal structure of the music is based upon the thematic structure of the verses. Formally the work is divided into two groups each comprised of two ‘darker sections sections culminating in a third ‘majestic ‘ section of music. The unifying features of the darker sections are unsteady rhythmic figures along with angular melodies and strident harmonies. This is in contrast to the ‘majestic sections which feature more rhythmic regularity and a solid sense of tonality.
And the Idles Shall Utterly Pass Away was composed in 2010 and commissioned by David and Illona Gay
The sections of music presented with brief pauses are as follows:
1. ‘And the idols shall utterly pass…’
2. ‘And the men shall go into the caves…’ 3. ‘And from the glory of His majesty…’ 4. ‘… a man shall cast away his idols..’
5. ‘ To the moles and to the bats…’
6. ‘From before the terror of the Lord…’
And the Idles Shall Utterly Pass Away
And the idles shall utterly pass away.
And men shall go into the caves of the rocks. And into the holes of the earth,
From before the terror of the Lord,
And from the glory of His majesty,
When he arises to shake mightily the earth. In that day a man shall cast away
His idols of silver, and his idols of gold, Which they made for themselves to worship, To the moles and to the bats;
To go into the clefts of the rocks,
And into the crevices of the crags,
From before the terror of the Lord,
And from the glory of His majesty,
When He ariseth to shake mightily the earth.
Isaiah 2:18

Works in Progress in April 2014

 

Currently there are three works which occupy my daily composing schedule:

Little Night Creatures is a piece for soprano saxophone and vibraphone. In these whimsical episodes, I endeavor to create a handful of imagined ‘creatures’.There’s no telling who or what these creatures are; essentially it’s really up to each listeners imagination. As is the case with several of my other works, the musical materials are derived from a ‘palette’ of motivic materials. This includes interchangeable pitch and rhythmic materials. It is my hope to make Creatures both technically challenging as well as artistically rewarding for both performer and listener.

 

The Three Princes is an adaption of a Grimm’s fairy tale for brass quintet and narrator. Although this is one of the brother’s lesser known stories, the tale is filled with magic and adventure. From the composer’s standpoint, there are  a lot of  intriguing materials to work with including everything from encountering a swarm of bees to discovering an enchanted castle with a beautiful  princess.The Three Princes is sure to captivate listeners both young and old alike. At  the same time, the piece  promises to be a lot of fun for members of the quintet to perform!

 

Trio ( the working title so far)for oboe,cello and piano is the third of my current projects.The piece is being written for Sarah Fraker, Professor of Oboe at the University of Arizona. Prior to this work, Sara has performed the premieres of my Pastorals with the Paloma Wind Quintet and Lyric Passages for Oboe and string trio (violin, viola and cello) a piece which was premiered at the International Double Reed Society Conference in Tempe, Arizona.The  current trio contains some of the same features as Pastorals and Lyric  with a particular focus on the use of the ‘singing’, lyrical qualities of each instrument. What’s more,Trio is also is a bit of a departure from the other aforementioned pieces in terms of its approach to form and harmony. It is my hope that Trio will have its first performance some time in 2015.

Coming Soon: A Desert Aviary

Just  east of Tucson, Arizona in the Rincon Mountain range,one can escape into a pristine desert wilderness. Here, one stands above and beyond the sights and sounds of city life. At this special spot, listen, as the natural world whispers it’s delicate songs. The haunting sounds of wind blowing  through a saguaro cactus; the gentle rustling of desert brush, and ,what is particularly precious, the delicate calls of the indigenous wrens and warblers, all of which create a place of peace and solitude. This delicate aural array is like gossamer in sound. Indeed, the entire experience not only envelops the listener, but seems to fill one from within.

 

Such is the inspiration behind my composition A Desert Aviary. Formally, the work is a miniature concerto with a solo piccolo accompanied by the other three instruments. The work unfolds with a series of brief musical tableaux.  The bulk of the musical material is drawn from a smattering of desert bird songs awash with textures and timbres of my own design. All an all, I hope to leave the listener with but  a tiny sampling of the  delicate, and enchanting array of sounds emanating from the Sonoran Desert. Here is an excerpt for your perusal.

file:///Users/jayvosk/Desktop/Desert%20Aviary%20XML-%20sample-PDF.pdf

Sonatina for Tenor Saxophone and Marimba

My Sonatina for Tenor Saxophone and Marimba is now available. You might consider this  three movement piece for your graduate or faculty recital. My intent was to write a work  that is both idiomatic and with the right amount of challenge to the performer.

The Old Women and the Sparrow: The reviews are in!

‘Fascinating’, ‘Looks very interesting!’. Those are the early reviews of my The Old Women and the Sparrow for Flute, Bb Clarinet and Narrator. It is an adaption of a Japanese folk tale. This family friendly work  should appeal to children and adults alike. Its the perfect piece  for children’s concerts and quite appropriate for any recital.

For more information including score and text, kindly contact me at.

jvosk@cox.net

Works in Progress for November 2013

I am working on three pieces at the moment: I’ve recently begun a song cycle consisting of settings of poems by the early 20th century poet Amy Lowell. The work  is scored for soprano, oboe and piano. Ms Lowell was quite a controversial character in her day and her verse really resonates with me. I also enjoy Ms Lowell’s poems because they are both lyrical and imaginative.

The Old Woman and the Sparrow is a piece for flute, clarinet and narrator. The text is an adaption of a Japanese folk tale. It is a poignant little story that should appeal to children of all ages (not to mention flutists and clarinetists).

In addition, I’ve begun the second movement of a three movement work called Acacias.  A few varieties of acacias grow here in Tucson and I’m writing this piece to celebrate these wonderful trees. The work is scored for low brass trio ( horn, trombone and tuba).

I hope to have a few  score samples to share by the end of the month so stay tuned!

Classic Blues: My View

Over the centuries, composers have tended to appropriate folk genres into the prevalent ‘learned styles’ of the day. Take for example the Baroque Suite. Bach and his contemporaries took a handful of ‘international’ popular folk dances and stylized them into a multi-movement prototype. The gigue, i.e.‘jig from Ireland; the Courante from France are examples. The 18th Century saw the ‘Minuet’ and the 19th Century the ‘Waltz’. The waltzes of the Strauss family became popular sensations of their day. The more ‘learned’, late romantic, Strauss (Richard) and the impressionist, Ravel, had their more ‘progressive’ versions as well.

An American folk tradition is the blues. From its origins in the Mississippi Delta to the present, the blues, as far as I’m concerned, is central to America’s musical culture. In the sonata cycle of the ‘classical ‘period , the inclusion of the minuet  which originated from a folk dance,became the norm. From a personal standpoint, it seemed  almost natural to include a ‘blues’ movement in my Acacia  for Low Brass Trio. This seems the perfect antidote to the ‘quirky’ first movement and the ‘rollicking’ third movement. My Sweet Acacia Blues is replete with ‘blue notes’ and blues phrasing. These blues lines are imbedded in a rich brass texture with lush harmonies.

 

My Acacias for Brass Trio will be available to the public in November, 2013.