Sutermeister “Capriccio” for Solo Clarinet

H. Sutermeister is the composer of the Capriccio for Solo Clarinet (in A). Composed in 1946 his is one of the more accessible solo works for the clarinet and also one of the better made from the standpoint of the writing for the instrument and for the form. 

I had a note from a student in New Zealand who asked for information on the work that he could use for notes, hence this post, but really because it is my feeling that it is a great piece to work on because it helps the player to learn about form , contrast and expression, to say nothing  pacing of the work. But first and foremost, the ball is always in your court, which means that it is up to the player alone to sustain all elements of the work, keep it “up”for the audience. What to use when playing by yourself? Contrast, in all things, sounds, speed, dynamcis,repitition, all the same elements that a composers uses, and you have no one else, just you. That is important.

Back to Mr. Sutermeister for a moment. He also wrote a concerto for the clarinet and really devoted himself to being a composer,composing several Operas which were performed during his lifetime and even some work for radio and television.

For the clarinetist performing solo works, there are several problems which must be faced immediately, the first being the sustaining of the sound for the duration of the work and also maintaining the musicality and contrasting the various parts of the work. Because there is no accampaniment, the sound, articulation, and various expression marks take on more importance than in an ordinary for clarinet and piano and or any combination of instruments.

There are two or three main sections of the Capriccio which are alternated and are in contrasting moods and tempi.

First and foremost, do not conceive of the work as a tour de force for technic or for velocity. While there are many virtuosic sections, none need to be played at a breakneck tempo.

It helps if one establishes their dynamic levels prior to performing the work because again the clarinet can only play the single single, indeed the singular rhythmic figure and obviously can play only one dynamic at any given time, though one can become louder , softer and accelerate as well as ritard. While these seem simple , in performing a solo work, they are quite complicated.

The idea of performing solo works is one which bears study. You are udertaking something other than an ensemble, say for clarinet and piano in which you can depend upon the other instrumentalist for rhythmic and melodic support as as for contrast. When you are performing alone, consider very carefully if in fact , you are up to this kind of task. It is a task which is different from an ensemble, which I always suggest first, prior to taking on a solo work for the very reasons outlined above.

I try to tell the student to establish the dynamic of forte at the beginning of the Capriccio with the first three articulated notes, establishing as well the tempo. What you demonstrate to the listener is your forte, your articulation as well as your sound, and for yourself, the tempo must bring you to the first pause or fermata.

(There are several recording of this work avilable on Youtube, and they will demonstrate one case of a tempo which was too fast for one of the players and another tempo which was not a tempo, merely a kind of struggle to get through the work.)

What do I mean by too fast?This student squeaks in the middle of the phrase. For me this is or was a case of a tempo which was too fast, for any error is something which can be prevented, however in solo pieces they seem to mean so much more, so never play any section of the work faster than that which you can easily negotiate.(that goes for all music, all etudes; remember it and you will play more concerts.Tempi are after all, all relative.The first three notes of the Capriccio establish your tempo and  you maintain this tempo unless you are asked to accelerate or ritard. There are many who will start the work at a very quick tempo, perhaps 92 for the 1/4, a big mistake. Think of the work in eighth notes and you will come much closer to the control necessary.

When you reach the first slower and contrasting section, you must really plan this carefully, again, so as to be in control. You will notice the second section is in two parts, almost antiphonal in nature. These must be brought out by contrast in sound, dynamics and tempi, which at these points in the work become somewhat thoughtful and lyrical in nature, contrasting with the more scherzo-like tempi.

Finally you come to what is essentially the recapitulation or the  restatement of the original thematic material.

By using contrast in dynamics, tempi, repitition you can both make the work more interesting and bring it to a successful conclusion.( You will know). Record it first and listen carefully and with great criticism to the playbacks. For your benefit, the recording must be perfect. Strive for it, for you will certainly desire perfction in front of a judge and/or the audience. Do not fail to take solo works very seriously for your success.

Best wishes, and practice.


One Response to Sutermeister “Capriccio” for Solo Clarinet

  1. karenluttik says:

    I agree; one of the secrets to this piece as all works for solo clarinet seems to be the element of contrast, surprise and drama keeping the audience in mind.

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