Clarinet Concerto

for Solo Clarinet and Large Chamber Ensemble or Orchestra

Ellen Taaffe Zwilich

Performing Ensemble: Clarinet with Orchestra
Duration: 26:00
Publisher: Merion Music, Inc.
Print Status: Rental

Quick Overview

Art and upheaval would seem to be inimical, but great music has often arisen in difficult times: Beethoven premiered "Fidelio" to an audience of Napoleon's officers who had just overrun Vienna; Ravel created "Le Tombeau de Couperin" as a paean to French culture during the darkest days of World War I; Shostakovich composed his "Leningrad" Symphony while that city was enduring the most brutal siege in modern history; Messiaen wrote the "Quartet for the End of Time" in a German prisoner-of-war camp and premiered it with some fellow inmates. In the days and months following the atrocities of September 11, artists of every stripe - rappers and symphonists, graffiti sprayers and sculptors, essayists and poets - have questioned the value of their work in and for these anxious times, wondering how to proceed, even if to proceed. Many were struck, briefly at least, into silence and creative inactivity by our communal shock, but as life adapted to its new normality, their ability to render the essence of experience into art returned, and with a greater awareness of the irresistible force of the creativity of the human spirit - they do it because they can?t not.

By September 11, 2001, Ellen Zwilich had already accepted the commission from the Arlene and Milton D. Berkman Philanthropic Fund to write a clarinet concerto for David Shifrin and begun the work. The sketches for the first movement, rhythmically taut and brilliantly virtuosic, were well advanced by then, but her musical thoughts during the tragic days that followed were torn away from that music?s exuberant spirit to the expression of shock and sorrow. "It was in my soul at the moment," she said. As this new music started to gain focus and form, Zwilich realized that it was related to motives from the concerto, and so she decided not just to include it as the second movement, but also to make its reference specific by titling it "Elegy: September 11" and by allowing its influence to touch the rest of the gestating work.

With the "Elegy" as their expressive node, the Concerto's four movements suggest a powerful emotional progression. The first movement, which opens with a tiny three-note motive of neighboring tones that recurs throughout the work, is brazen and city-extroverted and almost flamboyantly showy until it is unexpectedly broken off by a slow, lyrical strain for the soloist into which the three-note motto is woven. The vibrant music returns just as suddenly as it stopped, and fills the rest of the movement. The "Elegy" starts with the three-note motto, now become a scream. After a long silence, a deep breath really, the clarinet begins its lament above the steady, dead-march pulse of the pizzicato strings. The scream comes again, though diminished this time, and the clarinet continues its threnody ("serene" implores the score) over the murmurings of the strings. The scream returns, but weaker each time, subsumed into the clarinet?s sad song until the movement comes to its dying close. The scherzo-like third movement, with its upward reaching lines and its frenetic, shifting rhythms, seems an attempt to pull away from the tragedy of the "Elegy", though the barely audible central trio, with yet another reference to the Concerto's motto, suggests that the shadow of grief is not to be banished by mere hyperactivity. The finale, with its echoes of the three-note motto and the lyrical themes from the first movement, the "Elegy" and the scherzo's trio, is a remembrance, but one which moves beyond the sadness earlier associated with these thematic ideas to make of them things of tempered hope.

Scores & Parts

Clarinet Concerto - Full Score - Study
Clarinet Concerto - Solo Part

Additional Information

Composition Date 2002
Orchestration Solo Cl.; 1 1 0 1 - 2 1(Cornet) 0 0; 1Perc. Str.
Premiere October 20, 2002 (with Chamber Ensemble)Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, David Shifrin/clNovember 2,3, 2002 (with Orchestra)Buffalo Philharmonic, David Shifrin/cl, JoAnn Falletta/cond.

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