Clarinet Quintet

Clarinet Quintet

Clarinet Quintet

for Bb clarinet/bass clarinet and string quartet

Program Notes

I. Allegro brilliante
II. Presto delicato
III. Espressivo con moto

The Clarinet Quintet was written at the request of Richard Nunemaker. As is so often the case in the music world, Richard and I have a convoluted set of mutual friends and associations, including the fact that Richard is a graduate of the University of Louisville School of Music, where I am on the composition faculty. He is also a good friend of my composition teacher, John Eaton. In fact, we met for the first time in John’s Chicago home.

Richard was named a Distinguished Alumni Fellow at the University of Louisville and returned to campus for the first time in many years in 2002, on which occasion he gave the premiere of my piece, Las viudas de Calama, in its version for bass clarinet and piano. We had been discussing the idea of a piece for clarinet and string quartet anyway, so he went ahead and commissioned a piece to be played sometime in 2003. As he is a remarkable performer on the bass clarinet, we decided to have the clarinet double on bass clarinet (although this is optional).

I started out to write a relatively conventional four-movement piece, but after the end of the third movement, I found I had nothing further to say, so I ended it there.

The first movement is approximately in rondo form, with a couple of very loud and aggressive passages alternating with more lyric ideas. The second movement is a brief scherzo, in which the instruments scurry around quietly for the outer sections, but are a bit bolder in a contrasting center section. There is a very irreverent reference to a famous 20th-century violin concerto in this middle part, suggested by the use I had been making of the open strings of the quartet.

The last movement is an elegy, in which I attempt to spin out something like the sort of long, non-repeating melodies that Ravel was so good at. (It also has perhaps a reminiscence or two of Shostakovich, which I somehow didn’t realize until I heard the piece played live for the first time.) Although the bass clarinet is the principal melodic instrument in this movement, each of the instruments takes its turn as soloist before the somber ending.

The premiere performance was given by Richard Nunemaker and the Louisville String Quartet at the University of Louisville in October of 2003. It is recorded by them on Richard’s CD, The Louisville Project (Arizona University Recordings AUR CD 3127).

recorded by Richard Nunemaker, clarinet and bass clarinet, the Louisville String Quartet, and Krista Wallace-Boaz, piano