The first volume of ‘Time after yesterday’ reunites some of the most interesting contemporary musical pieces for unaccompanied clarinet from the 20th & 21st centuries, commemorating 100 years of the creation of the first and most influential work for solo clarinet of the modern era: Stravinsky’s ‘Three pieces’ for solo clarinet.
Three Pieces for clarinet solo (1919)
Igor Stravinsky’s ‘Three pieces’ for clarinet solo, dated 1919 (but probably completed the year before) it is certainly the most influential work of the repertoire of unaccompanied clarinet.
Dedicated to Werner Reinhart -a businessman and amateur clarinetist who supported economically the composer during his time in Switzerland- the work features a great sense of what I would call ‘chamber ballet music’. While the first piece is rather introspective, the second reminds us many of the dance gestures from his big ballets (Le Sacre, Petruschka, …). The third piece is an extroverted groovy piece featuring many jazzy and bluesy idioms.
Written in 1987, Krzysztof Penderecki achieves to create in his 4-minute piece ‘Prelude’ one of the strongest but proportionally smoothest expansions (and distensions) of musical emotions in a solo piece, which seems to be built exactly how an architect would build a very high skyscraper. In this piece the composer seems to have quoted himself with some music material from his clarinet concerto (original conceived as a viola concerto).
Giacinto Scelsi’s music is certainly one of a kind. This solo work for clarinet (or other single reed instrument) entitled ‘IXOR’ and written 1956 is a short but nevertheless great piece of the solo clarinet literature, but for some reason unknown to me, it is hardly ever considered as part of the main repertoire of the instrument, although other pieces by this composer have recently seen some sort of revival in the contemporary music scene. Scelsi’s music seems to be built based on a very simple but dense spectrum of sound, originated in this case the initial phrase of the first episode, which consist in one single pitch. The story telling in Scelsi’s music shows to me an unexplainable beautiful sense of proportions; in this abstract piece of music, beauty and proportion are indeed two concepts that seem to have been clearly and strongly integrated. Elegance and rudeness are combined to a high sense of aesthetic equilibrium.
Sonate pour clarinette seule (1963)
Although Tiberiu Olah’s main choral works are rarely performed outside Romania and Hungary (the countries where he was born and he developed his career, respectively) his solo pieces for wind instruments are highly appreciated internationally (at least by performers).
He is known for having been a very wise musician and teacher; probably one of the most important scholars of the 20th century in the musical environment. His ‘Sonata’ for solo clarinet is written in one single movement and shows a very complex technique in terms of compositional discourse; specially regarding elements like his fantastic management of the rhythmic patterns (sometimes quite groovy, and in general very steady and consistent), his rich sense polyphony, and his great knowledge of the particular clarinet attributes and possibilities.
Moment Musical (1947)
Hanns Eisler’s ‘Moment musical’ is a beautiful but rare piece, which has been published (by Breitkopf & Härtel) only in 2017… 70 years after it was written, or even more, as it is dated on 1947, but quite probably written before (it might have been was conceived to accompany the theater play ‘Night Music’ by Clifford Odets, although probably not finally performed then in the comedy).
It is a sort of rhapsodic ballad which features some bluesy elements, which have enriched Eisler’s music in his years during and after the war, when he was living in the USA.
Heinrich Sutermeister’s ‘Capriccio’ was written as a compulsory piece to be played by the clarinetists taking part of the Geneva Music Competition of the year 1957. The sober but graceful and dance-like main theme (which is constantly interrupted by some hectic and rude impulses) is followed by a melodic and ballad-like middle section. After the reprise, many of the previously presented elements are combined, closing the piece with a humorous coda.
Edison Denisov‘s ‘Sonata’ is very probably one of the most performed works written for solo clarinet in these days. While the first movement sounds like a doubtful monologue, the second sounds rather like an schizophrenic and incoherent agitated explosion of musical emotions.
The richness of the expressive capacity that makes Luciano Berio‘s ‘Lied’ a masterpiece is quite probably related to the management of its beautiful melodic materials which live in perfect harmony together with the agitation of disruptive elements throughout the piece. Tempo indications and breath marks help to create an atmosphere of uncertain flowing time, but which happens with an extreme musical coherence.
Heinz Holliger composed ‘Rechant’ in the memory of Thomas Friedli, one of the most sensitive clarinetists of our times, who passed away when he accidentally fell down a cliff while climbing a mountain in Madeira. The piece is written respecting an almost strict sequence of 7 pitches that explore the clarinet not only through all its range of extension, but also in terms of sonorous and expressive possibilities.
Jörg Widmann‘s ‘Fantasie’, written in 1993, quickly became a central piece of the clarinetistic repertoire. Although it is an early work of his, the composer (a fantastic clarinetist himself) makes use of all his vast knowledge of the instrument in a very wise but also cool, groovy and sexy fashion.
Elegía Cromañón (2015)
I wrote ‘Elegía Cromañón’ in 2015, when I was about to go on tour to Argentina. In that country, back in 2004, a concert of a rock and roll band happening at the end of the year (in a big club in Buenos Aires called Cromañón) ended up in a huge tragedy in which about 200 young people died on a sudden massive fire during the concert, and still today this sad episode has a big impact not only in many families affected and the Argentinian society altogether, but also it does have a strong meaning to me. I always believed in music as something that could bring us to the ultimate level of freedom and emancipation; the big contradiction I found between that freedom and the death of dozens of innocent people, was conflicting in my heart and mind until I could finally find a little bit of peace once I finished writing this work. Elements of the language of rock and roll music, melodies from the group playing that night, melodies of a male choir song I heard once in a monastery in South Germany, and other concrete and abstract materials are set together in this piece which evoques some feelings of a mother who lost his son in that painful night.
On my work ‘severlasalreves’ (dedicated to my friend Christoph Zimper), some relation with the mirroring technique of composing in Boulez’s ‘Domaines’ might be found. I particularly wanted to study the meaning and the unidirectional movement of time. Written within two hours in a bus ride between Tokyo and Nagoya, each of the 21 mirroring interventions of this piece (to be performed in the order of the performer’s choice) came as a possibility to challenge the absurdity of the phenomenon in which (because of the resonance of any non-vacuum medium) every sound eventually experiments a diminuendo or fade out at its end (even if this happens very fast and is almost unappreciable).
Gervasio Tarragona Valli: Gervasio has appeared as soloist with Tokyo Symphony Orchestra, New Japan Philharmonic, Orchestra Haydn di Bolzano e Trento, Busan Philharmonic, Banda Sinfónica Simón Bolívar, National Chamber Orchestra of Armenia, Bogotá Chamber Orchestra, Mozart Orchestra Cali, Adriatic Chamber Orchestra, Chieri Sinfonietta, Orchestre Buissonnier, Orquesta Sinfónica de Neuquén, Orquesta Sinfónica Provincial de Bahía Blanca, Russische Kammerphilharmonie St. Petersburg, Hamburg Concertante Orchestra, Camerata Académica de Buenos Aires, Camerata de Montevideo, Montevideo Philharmonic and the National Orchestra of Uruguay. Born in 1989 in Montevideo to a family of musicians, from early age he played with his father and brother diverse genres of South American music, becoming later a member of the ‘Montevideo Swing’ Jazz Band and the Tango Orchestra 'Destaoriya' conducted by Grammy-awarded bandoneonist Raúl Jaurena. He continues to explore genres like tango, latin jazz, bossa nova, flamenco, arabic music and other styles with his brother Martín (guitarist) and the polish beatboxer Crobbs; he has recently collaborated with pianist Hugo Fattoruso. He studied in the music universities of Basel (Prof. François Benda), Geneva (Prof. Romain Guyot), Weimar (Prof. Thorsten Johanns) and Saarbrücken (Prof. Shirley Brill). He has recently been one of the semi finalists of the 73rd Geneva International Music Competition. He was awarded first prizes at Tokyo International Music Competition, Saverio Mercadante Competition, Concorso Internazionale di Carlino, Audi Mozart Competition, Città di Chieri Winds Competition and Chalumeaux International Clarinet Competition; second prizes at the Dimitri Ashkenazy Clarinet Competition and the Japan International Woodwinds Competition; and the third prize and BG France Prize at the ClassicWinds International Music Competition in Hamburg. He has also won the third prize at the Toulouse International Clarinet and Saxophone Competition. He was finalist of the Osaka Chamber Music Competition as a member of ‘Wabi Sabi Trio’. He collaborated within different orchestras as Auckland Philharmonia (New Zealand), Biel/Solothurn Sinfonieorchester (Switzerland), and Hyogo Performing Arts Center Orchestra (Japan). He was also a member of the Youth Orchestra of the Americas. He has worked with conductors and soloists Sir Neville Marriner, Christian Arming, Daniel Harding, Claus Peter Flor, Dmitri Kitajenko, Tao Fan, Thomas Clamor, Hansjörg Schellenberger, Nemanja Radulovic, Ilya Gringolts, Philippe Quint, Jens Lindemann, Alice Sara Ott, Michael Collins, Lise de La Salle, Paul Meyer, Peter Rösel, Lucas Debargue, Giovanni Bellucci. He was invited to give master classes at the Universidad Nacional (Panama), Universidad Javeriana, Universidad Nacional, Universidad de Nariño, Conservatorio de Bellas Artes de Cali and Universidad de Caldas (Colombia), Conservatorio Nacional (Perú), Conservatorio Superior de Neuquén, Conservatorio de Bahía Blanca (Argentina), Instituto Superior de Artes (Cuba), Istituto Artemusica (Italy), Mie Prefecture High School (Japan), National University of Uruguay. As a composer, he has been given the golden award at the “Oskar Rieding Composing Competition” in Slovenia and the National Prize of Music in Uruguay. His pieces are published by DaVinci Publishing - Osaka. His debut Album CD ‘Alone & Together’ with pianist Javier Bezzato has been used for the soundtrack for the film ‘Belmonte’ (Federico Veiroj), premiered in Toronto and San Sebastian Film Festivals.
Edison Denisov (b Tomsk, 6 April 1929; d Paris, 24 Nov 1996). Russian composer.
Gervaso Tarragona Valli: Shortly after being appointed co-principal clarinet in the Hyogo Performing Arts Center Orchestra in Japan (under the direction of Mtro. Yutaka Sado), Gervasio Tarragona Valli won the first unanimous prize of the Audi Mozart International Competition in Italy.
Giacinto Scelsi (b La Spezia, 8 Jan 1905; d Rome, 9 Aug 1988). Italian composer. Scelsi's extraordinary life encompassed many aspects of the intellectual, spiritual, social and musical life of the 20th century. He was born into southern Italian aristocracy, inheriting the title Count D'Alaya Valva, and as a young man travelled extensively, moving within Europe's most elevated social circles. His English wife, Dorothy (whose nickname ‘Ty’ figures in the titles of two of Scelsi's works) was a distant relative of the British royal family; their wedding reception was held at Buckingham Palace. His music attracted a number of prestigious performances, particularly in Paris where Pierre Monteux conducted the première of Rotative in 1930. During World War II he lived in Switzerland; after the war his wife returned to England, never to contact him again. He spent the latter part of his life in Rome, where his apartment overlooked the Forum. Much of the detail of Scelsi's life is shrouded in mystery, something he himself did much to encourage. It seems, however, that after some initial successes as a composer, he suffered a devastating mental breakdown between the composition of La nascita del verbo (1947–8) and the Suite no.8 ‘Bot-ba’ (1952). Scelsi's early compositional career had been a progression through some of the principal aesthetic tendencies of 20th-century music – futurism, neo-classicism, dodecaphony, surrealism – preoccupations fed variously by periods of private study with Respighi and pupils of Skryabin and Schoenberg, and by his friendships with Henri Michaux, Pierre Jean Jouve, Paul Eluard and Salvador Dalí. The later works reveal a new preoccupation with an obsessive reiteration of individual sounds, a legacy of the lengthy period of rehabilitation from his illness. Scelsi described how he would spend days repeatedly playing single notes on the piano, developing a new, intensely focussed mode of listening. The multi-movement form of many subsequent pieces can also be heard as an extension of this reiterative exploration – sequences of movements are intended not to provide contrast but to offer a repeated re-examination of the same sound object. Although Scelsi's music continued to attract occasional performances in the 1950s and 60s, his career was eclipsed by the emerging Italian composers of the post-war period, and his compositional concerns, as far as they were known, were regarded as of marginal interest. It was not until the 1970s that the significance of his work began to be recognized by a new generation. Younger composers, including the American Alvin Curran, the Prix de Rome guests Grisey and Murail, and the Romanian exile Radulescu, discovered in Scelsi's work aspects of the musical world which interested them, struck particularly by the concentration on gradual timbral transformations. At the beginning of the 1960s many avant-garde composers had begun to explore the inner life of sounds, writing music which focussed on small fluctuations within sustained sonic bands. What distinguished Scelsi's work from Ligeti or Cerha's scores of the period was the profound subjectivity of Scelsi's engagement with his material, an engagement in which abstraction seemed to play no part. In his most wholly characteristic works pitch, timbre, register and dynamics are heard as the inherent expressive potentialities of each sound, rather than as separate parameters to be controlled more or less independently. The Quattro pezzi (su una nota sola) (1959), for example, use microtonal pitch inflection, timbral transformation and rhythmic reiterations to animate the ‘note’ on which each movement is based, stretching its identity far beyond that of a mere frequency. Subsequent works explore this plasticity of sound yet further, drawing a handful of musical strands out of an initial tone and allowing them to diverge. Usually such divergence covers an interval of no more than a third, but it makes possible a beguilingly unpredictable harmonic architecture in works of the mid-1960s such as Ohoi (1966) and the Fourth String Quartet (1964), arguably Scelsi's finest music. Inevitably, given his microscopic examination of instrumental sound, intervals derived from the harmonic series predominate. His intuitively composed work can therefore be heard to anticipate later, more systematic developments: not only the ‘spectral’ music of the Itinéraire group but also the exploration of the pitch-timbre continuum in computer music. As word about this extraordinary, neglected music spread, performances and then recordings began to multiply. The critic Harry Halbreich was a persuasive advocate; promoters such as Adrian Jack at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London, Wolfgang Becker at WDR and Ernstalbrecht Stiebler at Hessische Rundfunk organized portrait concerts of Scelsi's work. The Arditti Quartet took up the string quartets, Marianne Schroeder and Yvar Mikhashoff the piano music, and conductors such as Jürg Wyttenbach the orchestral works. This period of rediscovery culminated in the mid-1980s with belated first performances of many of Scelsi's largest scores, and triumphantly acclaimed presentations of Scelsi's work during the 1986 Holland Festival and the 1987 ISCM World Music Days in Cologne. The spiritual world of Scelsi's mature works is rooted in an exotic mix of pantheism and theosophy, derived from Gurdjieff, Blavatsky and Sri Aurobindo, but also stimulated by Scelsi's own visits to India and Nepal. Scelsi saw his work as straddling the aesthetic worlds of East and West, using the instrumental resources of the West in music whose meditative focus on individual tones has obvious links to both the monastic traditions of Tibetan Buddhism and the ison principle of Byzantine Orthodox worship. Elsewhere, particularly in the works of the late 1950s, there are elements of arabesque reminiscent of the folk music of the eastern Mediterranean. Scelsi claimed that ‘Rome is the boundary between East and West. South of Rome the East begins, and north of Rome the West begins. This borderline runs exactly over the Forum Romanum. It runs right here, through my drawing-room’. His titles offer further evidence: Aiôn (1961) is subtitled ‘Four Episodes in a day of Brahma’, Anahit (1965) is ‘A Lyric Poem dedicated to Venus’, Pwyll (1954) is a Welsh druidic term, while the title of Konx-om-pax (1969) brings together the ancient Assyrian, Sanskrit and Latin words for ‘peace’. Scelsi's approach to composition was itself hybrid: for him music was not a communicative medium but something immanent, revealed through the creative process. His reluctance to describe his working methods as ‘composing’ stemmed from the belief that music passed through him; it was not something ‘put together’ by him. Indeed the working method of his mature years was unusual, depending primarily on the selective transcription of improvisations made in a quasi-meditative state. He would perform these improvisations generally at the keyboard, either the piano or, in later years, the Ondiola, a three-octave electronic instrument with a rotary attachment for producing microtonal inflections. Scelsi would also invite performing musicians who showed a particular affinity for his work to improvise for him, painstakingly refining their instrumental resources for the sound-world he wanted, so that works such as the Canti del capricorno (1962–72) or the cello Trilogy (1956–65) became intimately associated with their first interpreters, the singer Michiko Hirayama and the cellist Frances-Marie Uitti. Each improvisation was recorded (the process of cataloguing the tapes was begun after Scelsi's death) and the most successful improvisations were then transcribed and realized as instrumental scores. Exceptionally, some improvisations were used more than once: the Fifth String Quartet (1984) and the amplified piano work Aitsi (1974) are both transcriptions of the same tape. The actual writing of the scores was undertaken by an assistant, working under Scelsi's direction. After Scelsi's death his most frequent collaborator, Vieri Tosatti, revealed the extent of his involvement in the making of Scelsi's scores, claiming that he had worked with Scelsi since 1947 and had written out all his major works since then. The discovery that Scelsi was not the sole author of his scores has troubled some critics who, associating it with his lack of a conventional compositional apprenticeship, have accused him of dilettantism, even of a sort of artistic fraud. Scelsi's collaborative approach was, however, consistent with his compositional philosophy, as was his reluctance to make public appearances at performances of his work, and his refusal to be photographed. By the time of his death his music had achieved an eminence which its composer resolutely rejected for himself.
Hanns Eisler (b Leipzig, 6 July 1898; d Berlin, 6 Sept 1962). German composer. He was the second son of the liberal middle-class Viennese philosopher Rudolf Eisler.
Heinrich Sutermeister (b Feuerthalen, nr Schaffhausen, 12 Aug 1910; d Morges, 16 March 1995). Swiss composer. After preliminary studies in the humanities in Basle and Paris, he attended classes in musicology at Basle University in 1931. From 1932 to 1934 he was a pupil of Courvoisier, Röhr, Geierhaas, Pfitzner and Orff at the Munich Akademie der Tonkunst. He returned to Switzerland in 1934 and spent a year working as an opera coach at the Berne municipal theatre. Subsequently, he devoted himself to composition, settling at Vaux-sur-Morges on Lake Geneva in 1943. In 1958 he was made president of the Mechanlizenz, the Swiss association for mechanical copyright, and from 1963 to 1975 directed a composition class at the Hanover Hochschule für Musik. In 1977 he was elected a member of the Bavarian Academy of Arts. Sutermeister first attracted attention during the 1930s with a series of works including the Divertimento for strings and the radio opera Die schwarze Spinne which, with their dynamic rhythms and primeval melodic and harmonic simplicity, clearly reflect the influence of his teacher Orff. Equally decisive for his development, however, was an early encounter with Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande, and a passionate enthusiasm for Verdi’s late operas. These relatively traditional models caused him to reject modernism, and opt for a more spontaneous and diatonic mode of expression that would remain comprehensible to a wide audience. Such ideals found particular favour in Nazi Germany where Sutermeister received a prestigious commission from the Dresden Staatsoper for his opera Romeo und Julia. First performed in 1940 under Karl Böhm, it secured an extremely favourable critical response and was staged in more than 20 different German theatres during the next few years. With its fresh melodic invention, highly skilled manipulation of theatrical effects and its unbridled romanticism, Romeo und Julia perfectly fulfilled Goebbels’s demand that new operas of the period should divert the public from the harsh realities of war. But Sutermeister’s attempt to capitalize on this success with a further Shakespearean opera Die Zauberinsel (based on The Tempest) misfired, and the work quickly dropped out of the repertory. After the war Sutermeister continued to focus his attention on operatic composition, though with mixed results. Drawing his inspiration from a wide variety of literary models (Dostoyevsky, Flaubert, Nestroy, Wilde and Ionesco), he demonstrated an impressive versatility of approach, and always took care not to resort simply to well-tried formulae. Nonetheless, his somewhat anachronistic musical language seemed at odds with the work of most of his contemporaries. While some operas such as Raskolnikoff (1948) and Titus Feuerfuchs (1958) attained some popularity, much of his output was quickly forgotten, and he rarely recaptured the potent melodic spontaneity of Romeo und Julia. Outside the opera house, Sutermeister achieved considerable popularity in Switzerland with his choral works, many of which were designed to be performed by amateur groups. Of particular note are the powerful and dramatic Missa da requiem (1957), dedicated to the memory of the conductor Issay Dobrowen, and the Te Deum 1975 (1974) which presents a rather different and more unsettling interpretation of the religious text than the familiar 19th-century examples of Bruckner and Verdi.
Heinz Holliger (b Langenthal, canton of Berne, 21 May 1939). Swiss composer, oboist, conductor and pianist
Igor Stravinsky: (b Oranienbaum [now Lomonosov], nr St Petersburg, 5/17 June 1882; d New York, 6 April 1971). Russian composer, later of French (1934) and American (1945) nationality. One of the most widely performed and influential composers of the 20th century, he remains also one of its most multi-faceted. A study of his work automatically touches on almost every important tendency in the century’s music, from the neo-nationalism of the early ballets, through the more abrasive, experimental nationalism of the World War I years, the neo-classicism of the period 1920–51 and the studies of old music which underlay the proto-serial works of the 1950s, to the highly personal interpretation of serial method in his final decade. To some extent the mobile geography of his life is reflected in his work, with its complex patterns of influence and allusion. In another sense, however, he never lost contact with his Russian origins and, even after he ceased to compose with recognizably Russian materials or in a perceptibly Slavonic idiom, his music maintained an unbroken continuity of technique and thought.
Krzysztof Penderecki (b Dębica, 23 Nov 1933). Polish composer and conductor. He first came to prominence as an explorer of novel string textures and for many years his name was popularly synonymous with avant-garde Polish music. His subsequent allusions to 18th- and 19th-century idioms and genres, in his choral and operatic works as well as in his purely instrumental pieces, has produced a substantial body of work which challenges many assumptions about the nature and purpose of contemporary music.
(b Oneglia, 24 october 1925; d Roma, 27 may 2003). Italian composer. At a relatively early stage in his career, he succeeded in transcending the closed world of the European avant garde to address a wider public. The vivid, gestural idiom that he developed in the 1960s, and the creative consequences that he drew from other, often extra-musical aspects of the culture around him, established for him a world-wide reputation that has sustained his subsequent exploration of a wide, and sometimes challenging, arc of musical resources. Of formidable creative energy, he has proved one of the most prolific composers of the later 20th century.
Tiberiu Olah. Romanian composer. At the Dima Conservatory, Cluj (1946–9), he studied theory with Juliu Mureşianu, harmony and counterpoint with Max Eisikovits and the piano with Gheorghe Halmoş; he continued his studies at the Moscow Conservatory (1949–54) under Yevgeny O. Messner (composition) and Dmitry R. Rogal-Levitski (orchestration). In addition he participated in the Darmstadt summer courses (1966–72), where several of his compositions (e.g. Columna infinită, Invocatii) were performed. In 1969–70 he was composer-in-residence at DAAD, Berlin, where he embarked on a study of time and space in music. Olah’s music is based on an original modal system. He uses numerical sequences and proportional structures that join in an homogenous whole, leaving free certain characteristics of traditional Romanian music. His works use a continuous variation technique capable of generating work cycles such as Brâncuşi and Harmonies. In Harmonies II (1976) processed material is superimposed on original ideas, enabling the work’s superposition on itself. In Harmonies I and III, using tape or a second orchestra, new material is interspersed with passages from works of the same cycle. This conception of musical space and time is discussed in his studies of the music of Webern and Enescu. Olah has played an important role in the development of national cinematography. Two of his film scores, Răscoala (‘The Uprise’, based on a 12-note sequence G, B, D, F – A, C, E, G – C, E, G, B) and Mihai Viteazul (‘Michael the Brave’) were highly acclaimed at the International Film Festival, Moscow, and have subsequently become successful concert pieces in their own right. Olah’s musicological writings include a study of polyheterophony in Enescu’s music and the organization of Webern’s pre-serial harmonic language; both display a highly original point of view. He was awarded the Prize of the Romanian Academy (1965), the Koussevitzky Prize (1997) and first prize of the Romanian Composers’ Union (1993) for a lifetime’s achievement and several prizes of the Romanian Composers Union.