About this Recording
8.553427 - Clarinet Evergreens

Clarinet Evergreens

Clarinet Evergreens


The clarinet is a versatile instrument. Originating from the single-reed chalumeau, its name now adopted for the lower register of the modern clarinet, it was developed by the Nuremberg maker Johann Christoph Denner at the beginning of the eighteenth century. The change he or perhaps his son Jacob made allowed the earlier instrument an upper register previously vir1ually denied it. The Denners made both chalumeaux and clarinets, the former at first more proficient in their true register and the clarinet better above it. Fur1her technical changes continued during the century and in the years that followed, with extensions of the range of the instrument and with the addition of keys that facilitated its use.


The clarinet only gradually found a place in the orchestra, where it was at first sometimes only an optional alternative to the oboe. Mozar1, through his friendship with the clarinettist Anton Stadler, wrote tellingly for the instrument, or rather for the so-called basset-clarinet, with its extended lower range, that Stadler had invented. The Stadler brothers were the first clarinettists to be employed, in 1787, in the Vienna Cour1 Orchestra, while Haydn first used the instrument in a symphony in 1794, when he was writing for Salomon's orchestra in London. The new century brought clarinet vir1uosi of a high order, reflected in the concer1os for the instrument by Weber and by Spohr, with technical improvements answering the musical challenges proposed by these composers and their successors.


In the twentieth century the clarinet has assumed an additional identity, typified by the inspired opening of George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, a jazz glissando suggested by Paul Whiteman's clarinettist Ross Gorman. The clarinet and that other single-reed instrument, the saxophone, have a strong association with jazz and, in consequence, in the work by other composers that has reflected jazz practice in one way or another. The sound of the clarinet remains thoroughly distinctive, with its rich lower register, its flute-like upper register and its fur1her, experimental possibilities.


The Budapest Clarinet Quintet, led by Bela Kovacs, makes additional use of the basset-horn, with its extended lower range, and of the bass-clarinet, pitched an octave lower than the normal B flat instrument and developed in the nineteenth century by Adolphe Sax, eponymous inventor of the saxophone. This gives the quintet a wide range and with the versatility of the instrument allows a very varied reperloire of arrangements.


The present release includes music from Mozart to Scott Joplin, most of it very familiar, in one form or another. While the Mozart Romance is arranged from a work for other instruments, the Menuett from Beethoven's popular Septet made use of the clarinet in its original scoring. Historically the three Songs without Words by Mendelssohn and Schumann's Träumerei (Dreaming) belong to the next generation, all four works originally for piano. Mendelssohn's title for these pieces, now very familiar, was unusual in its day: songs, after all, were settings of words, so that one could not properly exist without the other. The short piano pieces under this title, however, have all the qualities of songs in their form and concept, lacking only verbal elements. Words were important for Robert Schumann, whose short pieces often have a literary inspiration.


Musical nationalism, which developed even more rapidly with the political movements of the mid-nineteenth century, is echoed in the work of the Russian naval-officer-turned-composer Rimsky-Korsakov. His Flight of the Bumble-Bee has appeared in arrangement after arrangement, but has its original place in the opera The Tale of Tsar Saltan, where the hero, in the guise of a bee, deals very properly with his wicked aunts. Antonrn Dvofak is the epitome of Czech nationalism, although his well known Humoresque seems, through its familiarity, to have no specifically Bohemian connection. The work of the Spanish pianist-composer Isaac Albeniz, however, and in particular the music he wrote for the piano, often breathes the very spirit of Spain.


The spirit of nineteenth century Vienna is preserved in the rich repertoire of waltzes, quadrilles, marches and polkas from the Strauss family. The dynasty began with the older Johann Strauss and continued with his three sons, of which the eldest, Johann, and the second, Josef, wrote together the famous Pizzicato Polka.


France at the turn of the century found its genius in Claude Debussy, followed, chronologically at least, by his younger contemporary Maurice Ravel. Debussy's The little Negro, with its syncopations and changes of mood from the cheerful to the gently meditative, is characteristic of the composer's piano writing, while Ravel's Pavane pour une Infante defunte (Pavane for a Dead Infanta), its title apparently an afterthought, is an example of the composer's work in neo-classical style, evoking a world that has passed in its use of the traditional dance-form. Both pieces were originally written for the piano.


Inevitably the clarinet must turn for a moment to the repertoire emanating from America, here represented by Scott Joplin and Erroll Garner in characteristic pieces from North America, while Latin America is heard in The Girl from Ipanema by the Brazilian composer Carlos Antonio Jobim. Equally inevitably a group of players from Hungary might be expected to include music by that most essentially Hungarian of composers, Zoltan Kodaly, whose wordless Epigrams form part of a programme that also finds a place for a piece by the Hungarian composer Le6 Weiner and ends with that most Hungarian of dances, the Csardas, here borrowed for Paris by the Italian-born violinist-composer Vittorio Monti.


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