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’.