Clarinet Hive: Astor Piazzolla (1921–92) • John Harbison (b. 1938) • Gunther Schuller (b. 1925)
Thomas E. Barker (1954–88) • Vincent Persichetti (1915–87) • Evan Ziporyn (b. 1959)
Astor Piazzolla (1921–1992), arr. for clarinet quartet by Bruce Edwards: Histoire du Tango
Throughout its history, the tango experienced dramatic changes in its musical evolution and public perception. Rooted in the milonga and Cuban habanera rhythm, the tango was born as a risqu é dance in the slums and brothels of Buenos Aires. It gradually moved to the upper échelons of society, eventually becoming a national music for Argentina that symbolized social mobility and success. Musical influences include the waltz, rag-time, jazz, and, notably, the innovations of Astor Piazzolla. As a bandoneonist and composer immersed in the tango world, Piazzolla aspired to sophisticate the genre while maintaining its essence. His resulting tango nuevo launched the tango into the world of concert music. Histoire du Tango (1985), originally written for flute and guitar, outlines historical periods of the tango in four movements. The first, Bordel 1900, incorporates a light, lively character with prominent habanera rhythm, echoing the quick-paced early tango. Café 1930 is markedly slower, embracing the nostalgic melodies of the tango’s golden age and social reclassification. Nightclub 1960 expands the tango’s musical palette with increased rhythmic complexities and jazz influences. Finally, Concert d’aujourd’hui (Concert of Today), integrates dissonance and replaces previous lyrical melodies with more angular lines. It synthesizes the tango with twentieth-century art music, representing Piazzolla’s tango nuevo.
John Harbison (b. 1938): Trio Sonata
John Harbison is one of America’s foremost composers and the recipient of numerous awards and distinctions including the Pulitzer Prize for music, the Heinz Award, and the prestigious title of Institute Professor for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he has taught since 1969. A prolific composer in a variety of mediums and genres, his style is often viewed as eclectic, open to every musical resource available. Influences include jazz, serialism, and neo-classicism, with Stravinsky and especially Bach predominantly impacting his compositional style. Trio Sonata (1994) is no exception, with its four short movements referring to, as Harbison attests, “oblique Baroque types”. Harbison composed Trio Sonata as a chamber music conductor in an effort to create a work that would be suitable for virtually any instrumental combination and therefore practical for teaching chamber groups of non-traditional configurations. Trio Sonata’s concise motivic designs, syncopation, and chromatic harmonic language create a light, free character that is at times quirky and humorous, as underscored by Harbison’s tempo specifications for each movement: “1. Fast, 2. Fast, 3. Fast, 4. Fast”. Its unencumbered spirit is an example of Harbison’s nonpretentious approach to composition, in which he eschews the personal and self-absorption.
Gunther Schuller (b. 1925): Duo Sonata for Clarinet and Bass Clarinet
Gunther Schuller is an icon in the pantheon of American composers with vast and impressive accomplishments as a writer, performer, conductor, producer, publisher and educator. He is perhaps best known for incorporating jazz into his works and developing “Third Stream,” a term he invented in a 1957 speech to describe works that embraced a style that fused elements of classical and jazz music but did not fit neatly in either mainstream. His chief jazz influence is Duke Ellington, but others include Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. Schuller has also been influenced by Reger, Debussy, Stravinsky, Scriabin, Messiaen, and, most significantly, Schoenberg and the Second Viennese School. Duo Sonata (1949) adopts an early twentieth-century atonal approach in its first two movements. Schuller sets up intervallic gaps and fills them in chromatically in the first movement, which is fugal and contrapuntal in design, and triadically in the second, which alludes to a Classical homophonic texture. The last movement strongly suggests a unifying key area with playful arpeggios outlining triads related by semitonal voice-leading. In this recording, the B flat bass clarinet substitutes for the A bass clarinet with a transposed part, thus retaining the proper pitch relationships between movements.
Vincent Persichetti (1915–1987): Serenade No. 13, Op. 95, for Two Clarinets
American composer Vincent Persichetti completed a total of fifteen serenades for band, orchestra, piano, tuba, and diverse chamber ensembles. His appetite for a variety of mediums matched his propensity to absorb, apply, and assimilate the different styles and techniques available from past and present music. Consequently, he has been compared to a plethora of composers and criticized for eclecticism. Persichetti acknowledged that his music defies categorization into periods and embraced his eclectic style as a “creative advantage”. Despite his artistic diversity, Persichetti heeded maintaining musical unity within a work to express an overall idea or mood and revealed an idea shared among his Serenades, describing them as “‘love’ pieces, usually of the night: small pieces of a certain lyric, under-the-window quality, that had precedence with Mozart and Brahms”. Serenade No. 13 (1963), commissioned by and given its première at The Chapin School in New York City, evokes this atmosphere in seven movements, each demonstrating similar unifying techniques, including motivic variation with rhythmic and pitch alterations, embellishment, phrase extension, and note repetition through octave displacement. Although the movements exude distinct individual characters ranging from lighthearted to reflective to purposeful, they complement one another and combine to convey the work’s essence.
– Amber Donna Waseen
Thomas E. Barker (1954–1988): Single Six
Thomas E. Barker composed Single Six for Theodore A. Schoen in August 1982. The first performance took place shortly thereafter in October at Carnegie Recital Hall. The work was one of four pieces written for Schoen during Barker’s life, the others being; CCI for Bass Clarinet and Baritone Saxophone; Mark VI for Saxophone Quartet; and Double Concerto for Bass Clarinet, Trombone, and Chamber Orchestra (Blackhawk). Barker, rarely lacking in inspiration, composed quickly; the matrix of the set for Single Six was completed in nine hours. In his program notes for the première Barker said that: “The work falls into six sections, which has nothing to do with the title mind you, based on a common hexachord. This hexachord suffers several mathematical abuses in each section, but all of these manipulations come from the same source.” The hexachord is comprised of the pitches B-flat, A, C-flat, A-flat, D-flat, and C. After the initial opening on B-flat, the lowest pitch possible for an extended range bass clarinet, each of the remaining five sections begin on the next respective pitch of the hexachord. Even though his works are technically, rhythmically and mathematically complex, the influence of the jazz of John Coltrane and especially Eric Dolphy is evident in all of Barker’s works for bass clarinet, including Single Six.
Evan Ziporyn (b. 1959): Hive
Evan Ziporyn composed Hive on a commission from Theodore Schoen. The world première was held at the 2008 International Clarinet Association Convention with Laura Ardan, David Krakauer, Theodore Schoen, and Evan Ziporyn as performers. Ziporyn has the following to say about the work: “Hive grows out of my experience as an amateur bee-keeper, in both sound and structure. Honey-bee society predates our own, and in many ways the encounter with the apis is like encountering extraterrestrials, full of shocking similarities and profound differences. Hive is not strictly programmatic, but it does contain elements that come directly out of this encounter. For example, happy bees seem to vibrate a collective “A”; when agitated, this rises to a “C”: this is the source of the opening oscillations in the music. The overall shape of the piece—swirls and flight patterns, frenzied accruals, followed by a long, zen-like stasis—mirrors the larger life-cycle of the hive, where the summer’s buzz of activity is followed by a unique quasi-hibernation, the throng bundling together for warmth and protection, patiently vibrating their way through the winter. Recording the piece in frozen Minnesota during January, this seemed especially apt.”
– Theodore Schoen