I’m playing the Stravinsky Three Pieces this summer. I’ve never played anything so modern before and I don’t really understand what’s going on. I can play the notes, but the music isn’t coming. How can I understand this piece? I’m 15 – am I too young?Thank you very much,- Micaela.
These are usually and correctly performed on the A clarinet for movements 1 and 2 and on Bb for the final movement. It makes very good sense to perform the pieces in the above manner as the notes themselves point to this interpretation and “the theater” of walking onstage with two instruments is always quite effective….and it does sound much better. You will have no problem switching quickly to the Bb to get to the fast last movement, for this is no implication of a key and therefore an intonational connection between the two.Concerning the Stravinsky Three Pieces for Clarinet Solo, they are the most challenging works you will see for a while and will give you a real key into the 20th century and for accurate reading and interpretation which will last you a lifetime, for I consider this work one of the most important for the young clarinetist to learn, and to learn really well.As you know they were written in 1919 and published later by both Boosey and Hawkes and Omega Music, which is my copy at present reading. This one reads, “published in 1949”, Omega Music Company, and the price was 80 cents.
The First Piece
It is in this first little piece of a mere 30 measures that you will be presented with apparently insurmountable problems, which will eventually become terribly simple, for they really are. Remember the tempo marking, quarter note equals 100 on the metronome. Immediately a suggestion that will unravel this piece is to count the first in 8th notes, that is to say 50 for the eighth. If you own a metronome, set it on 50 and go through the entire first piece with the metronome on counting eighth notes. Remember the tempo and dynamic marking ” Sempre p and molto tranquillo”. That’s the secret of the first piece. Quietly and very much “at peace”.In this work and any 20th century work (I think every work) you must play exactly what is one the page and you observe every mark you see as being absolutely sacrosanct Ö no deviation from what is on the page.Observe every breath mark, for they are part of the “way in” to this first piece, and indeed the whole work.I remember almost every word that Mlle Boulanger told me when we worked together on these pieces in her apartment at Fontainebleau.She sat at the piano and I sat with my clarinet(s) next to her. She would demonstrate easily and immediately make the transposition to the A clarinet (the clarinet upon which one should perform the first piece). She mentioned to me that this is a somber piece, a very regular, almost monotonous kind of regularity as part of it, and she actually used “The Volga Boatmen” as a quotation for this piece; she called it perhaps “Variations upon the Volga Boatmen”.A very simple statement, however if you will use that little example of her suggestive teaching when you play this first piece, you will always get it in a correct style. The breath marks, as already stated are to be taken literally and they are to be really a breath. If you will stop at breath marks, and then start again, seamlessly, you will learn one of the most important lessons of any clarinetists job: it must be seamless, and it must be musical, never abrupt, never mechanical or “robot-like” In this work and truly in all others, you must become a part of the instrument and music and vice versa.I have received that comment about my own playing, “it would seem as if you and the clarinet are one, inseparable”. It is THE comment that counts. You are a musician, you are making music, you are realizing something sensitive and beautiful for the audience.Back to the first piece. Be very careful of your intonation! If you DO have an A clarinet, be careful of the low E because it is almost always quite flat, or can be. So actually is this note on the Bb, but more noticeable on the A. Also be careful f the intonation of the note D# and down to F#. There are many of these notes within this first piece. If you can, never use the so-called one and one fingering for the D#. It is much too sharp and only used in very rapid passages, Try to always use the same D#, for they all differ and may present a mixed message as far as intonation is concerned.Check your tempo frequently and stay at 50 for the eighth; observe thM slurs very carefully. The legato must also be seamless. The few changes in dynamics must be discernible by all in the audience. Sometimes we see dynamics and we THINK we are making them, but few listeners can tell. make sure it starts and stays piano and that you observe and carry out every direction. If you do not, you are making a mistake, same as a wrong note, the very same.When you finally arrive at the last 2 measures, remember that the statement reads a bit faster and a bit louder. I usually play these last two measures quite full and in a declamatory manner, with a very long fermata, diminishing to nothing. Then after the final sound is completed, keep the clarinet “up” and after perhaps 10 seconds, slowly and quietly hold it at rest. You must always remember that realizing music has with it a bit of theater as well. Let the listener know that you have concluded the first piece.Learning and rehearsing this first little piece should take quite a while. After you are sure that you have literally “mastered” this first work, you may go to the second
The Second Piece
The second movement contrasts perfectly with the first, employing all of the practical notes on the instrument, played very quickly and without any apparent regulation, at least to the ear of the listener. The piece is comprised of two similar sections at the beginning and repeating at the conclusion and a central middle section in contrast to the two “bookends”.To the performer, it is a very ordered work, especially metrically. Please note the markings: eighth equals eighth, sixteenth equals sixteenth and three sixteenths equal one eighth. The tempo for the eighth is 168 on the metronome for each eighth note. The setting therefore on your metronome should be 168 Ö after you have learned the piece at least twice that slowly, if not a third of the tempo. And it is a good idea to subdivide in that manner; as you continue to learn contemporary idioms, you will learn that subdividing in this manner at an exact portion of the original tempo is a kind of “metric modulation”. Metric modulations are ‘the stock and trade” of contemporary composers.Learn the term, it is not difficult and will help every aspect of your playing, especially the degree of sophistication you bring to the rehearsal and your basic understanding of what you are doing.Many, many, many young players only learn the notes, nothing else, in a kind of arrogance that will not serve any cause having to do with music.Notice! there is only one measure or NO measure(s) in this second piece. You are governed only by the metric markings at the beginning.Start slowly, at perhaps 54 for three sixteenths and do not think that you are playing triplets , for at the conclusion of the second group of 16ths you are confronted with TWO sixteenths which are to be played exactly as two sixteenths and NOT as a duplet, (which was done by more performers that I can remember).When you have learned the first two lines perfectly at the slow tempo, you have already learned the last two, for they are virtually identical, with slight changes, the second piece having the same slower and louder “tag” at the conclusion as the first . There is an immediate (sudden) less forte few notes and a softening and diminishing quality of the execution, which makes a tremendous impression if done correctly.Now, I have left the middle section because there is more contrast and more humor in this section than one would think . I interpret the double bar there as a large pause, (during which time you can catch your breath) Then start in the following manner: very rhythmic playing in pianissimo , it is like a cute little dance, punctuated by three interruptive sections in a different register of the clarinet . Then! there is an apparent repeat of this material, (transposed) which is metamorphosed into the original tempo of the beginning. The last two lines of this piece are some very difficult clarinet-playing . Please do yourself the favor of learning this VERY slowly, very smooth legato and , in no manner, screechy … never screech on the clarinet, and never squeal, even if the music is difficult and you would like to get it over with as soon as possible.Instead practice it slower than you would normally, emphasizing your beautiful smooth legatissimo playing and technical proficiency. The dynamics in this second piece are even more important than in the first and make the difference between mediocre and excellent. Observe the fermatas! They are places to rest, if only for a moment. The rhythm stops there and no one will notice if you take that extra breath to restore your powers. I find that this composer is very very keenly intelligent and you will perform at a high level if you adhere to every marking, every time.Take three or four times the time(as you did for the first). to learn the notes of the second movement.
The Third Piece
A very busy and regular last movement, all in the same register of the instrument, at the same tempo, and the same dynamic marking from beginning to end. Do not make the mistake of practicing this too fast, for it requires a bit more though than the others and is very regular in sound and intensity.Practicing it too fast will give you and the audience a “bad taste” t(o say nothing of Mr. Stravinsky).16th equals sixteenth from beginning to end; therefore practice at the eighth note at a slow tempo initially, with your most beautiful and liquid sound. Fix every technical bump, every sound, and especially every accent must be practiced so that it all is within your chosen timbral sphere (the quality of sound you have chosen and your parameters of loud and soft.)This piece is completely regular and the audience must feel the tempo of 160 regardless of what you are doing. This piece, the last movement, will have the effect of being over even before it has started , and if you perform it exactly as written, performing the last 16th loudly, followed by a “cute” Bb with quite a long fermata and then a quick grace note to the upper Bb, you will leave the audience breathless.So, in a brief overview, the first of the 3 movements is quiet and rather reflective, emphasizing the quality of a Russian Folk song in the performance, contrasted by the second, which begins and end much more quickly, almost abruptly, followed by a very metrical and quick “march”, again, with the abrupt and humorous, though different ending (than the first two).Good luck with Mr. Stravinsky and in all your endeavors.