Alban Berg 1885-1935 is one of the more important composers of the past century,and in these atonal miniatures,(but not yet within the twelve-tone system ),he is perhaps the most important.
Every clarinetist should study and learn these four little pieces because so much of 20th century clarinet technics are exposed for the first time in the early years, and even more, these are pieces which examine the emotional quality of the clarinet like no other work of the time.
All fine clarinetists have to be able to express lyricism , the ability to encompass and understand the technic of the instrument and to be able to convey emotion, expression through this ability learned through the discipline of the instrument. We get by the technical aspects of the instrument and suddenly we are conveying expression. Herein lies the importance of the Four Pieces for Clarinet and Piano by Berg. These were composed in 1913 and not performed until 1919 at the Verein, the exclusive club that Arnold Schoenberg formed for the performance of new works, wherein no critic was allowed to attend, yes a private club. Interestingly one of the works frequently performed there was the Quintet for Clarinet by Reger, a work which many clarinetists would rather not play.
Reger of course, was the prolific composer who, upon receiving a bad review from a music critic answered the critic with this: “As I read your review I am sitting in the smallest room of my house and your review is in front of me. Soon , it shall be behind me.”I played this great monument to Brahms with the Laval String Quartet for “Arts National”, several years ago.
Back to Alban Berg’s atonal miniatures.
The works consists of only 63 measures throughout the four pieces: three relatively largo pieces, enfused with new clarinet technics at the time: fluttertongue, in the low register moving slowly in the bottom of the instrument; echotones in both the second and third movements and again flutter tongu in the final movement, preceded by stopped staccato, very difficult to execute and violent crescendi and diminuendi, concluded with sharp dissonance percussively struck on the piano, then a C7 chord with the fingers held on the chord, a huge dissonance in the bass and then allowing only the C7 chord to strike in sympathetic vibration with the dissonance. If the piano is tuned perfectly , there is total silence in the hall except for the sound of the C major chord, with the 7th on top. The lingering echo-like quality of the major seventh is really shocking, especially after all the dissonance. And,in only three or four measures.
All of these effects and these very short pieces have to convey an enormous range of expression, as much on a miniature scale as that found in “Wozzeck”, his greatest work of Opera and the Violin Concerto composed in 1935.
I have performed the work many times and always feel an enormous responsibity to play them with as much expression as is possible on our instrument. If you do, you will be enriched . If you need any tips on how to play any of the many interesting patterns, please don’t hesitate to write.
Published by Schott. Get an accopmanist who has no trouble with difficult rhythms, syncopations and a complete technic .