Neglected Masterpieces with Clarinets

“Do you have suggestions for inclusion on my concert”?. Usually pleasant sounding works of either French or US composers, a smattering of composers from everywhere, but sadly, one wonders about the very function of any kind of school recital, certainly one of which being the demonstration of increased knowledge of repertoire and especially important repertoire that serves the large purpose of widening the parameters of the performers experience. One sees and hears popular and/or pleasant sounding works designed to please an audience, while frequently avoiding works which are of great importance to the performer. If a work which is regarded as important to the repertoire of the clarinetist, in that it serves to instruct the performer, and, by extension, the audience ,of technics not usually presented, the work deserves inclusion on a serious concert.

One of the finest works within the repertoire of the clarinetist was composed 100 years ago in 1913, by one if the more impoitant composers of his time and Century, Alban Berg.
I speak of Vier Stucke,Opus 5 by Alban Berg, for Clarinet and Piano, composed exactly one hundred years ago.

There are two major works that illustrate 20th century performance practrices for the Clarinet, one being Pierrot Lunaire,Opus 21 by Arnold Schoenberg. (“Three times Seven Poems from Albert Giraud’s ‘Pierrot lunaire'”), commonly known simply as Pierrot Lunaire, Op. 21(“Moonstruck Pierrot” or “Pierrot in the Moonlight”), is a melodrama by Arnold Schoenberg. It is a setting of twenty-one selected poems from Otto Erich Hartleben’s German translation of Albert Giraud’s cycle of French poems of the same name.
The narrator (voice-type unspecified in the score, but traditionally performed by a soprano) delivers the poems in the Sprechstimme style. Schoenberg had previously used a combination of spoken text with instrumental accompaniment, called “melodrama”, and it was a genre much in vogue at the end of the nineteenth century.The work is atonal but does not use the twelve-tone technique that Schoenberg would devise eight years later.
This work, which dates from 1912 was composed For voice, piccolo, flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, violin, viola, cello, piano. The parts are divided in the following manner: Flute doubles on Piccolo, Clarinet doubles on Bass clarinet. For the clarinetist it is a superb exposure to the rigors of playing difficult 20th century repertoire and a challenge exists in the Bass Clarinet part, as the registration is extreme in some instances. Pierrot Lunaire is a big work, gigantic by comparison to the Four Pieces by Berg, requiring  multiple rehearsals, very complicated in composition and in performance. For me personally, the two works seemed the equivlent of an advanced degree.

Personally the opportunities to perform this work with Lukas Foss and all the others of the group called The Creative Associates was one of the most educative experiences . My mind was opened during those rehearsals and the subsequent performances. I had never really performed music with this most contemporary setting, and I learned more from Pierrot than almost any other music from the 20th Century. Brahms is Brtahms, And Weber is weber, and all the rest of it, but I found nothing to be like Pierrot Lunaire, or for that matter The Four Pieces for Clarinet and Piano, written during the same period by Alban Berg, who ws Schoenbergs student at the time. ActuallySchoenberg did not favor the Four Pieces by Berg and there was some disparaging comments by Schoenberg made to his student. The four Pieces were not performed until 1921, eight years later at the Verein.

Verein, for those who are not familiar with the word, was a private group of composers and performers who performed each others music. Music Critics were not allowed to attend.

The Society for Private Musical Performances was an organization founded inVienna in the Autumn of 1918 by Arnold Schoenberg with the intention of making carefully rehearsed and comprehensible performances of modern music  available to genuinely interested members of the musical public. In the three years between February 1919 and 5 December 1921 (when the Verein had to cease its activities due to Austrian hyperinflation), the organisation gave 353 performances of 154 works in a total of 117 concerts.
Circumstances permitting, concerts were given at the rate of one per week, with each programme consisting entirely of modern works. The range of music included was very wide, the ‘allowable’ composers not being confined to the ‘Schoenberg circle’ but drawn from all those who had (as he himself put it) a real face or name. During the Society’s first two years, in fact, Schoenberg did not allow any of his own music to be performed; instead, the programmes included works by Stravinsky, Bartók, Debussy, Ravel, Webern, Berg, and many others, including Busoni and Max Reger.
The players at these events were chosen from among the most gifted young musicians available, and each work was rehearsed intensively, either under Schoenberg himself or by a  Performance Director specifically appointed by him. Clarity and comprehensibility of the musical presentation was the over-riding aim, with audiences sometimes being permitted to hear ‘open rehearsals’, and complex works sometimes being played more than once in the same concert.
Only those who had joined the organisation were admitted to the events: the intention was to exclude ‘sensation-seeking’ members of the Viennese public (who would often attend concerts with the express intention of whistling derisively at ‘modern’ works by blowing across their house-keys) as well as keep out hostile critics who would attack such music in their publications: a sign displayed on the door – in the manner of a police notice – would state that   (‘Critics are forbidden entry’). Applause was not permitted after the performance of any work on the program.

In retrospect, one has to realize that the concerts performed at the Verein were very similar to the  inclinations of many composers and performers in todays world of music. How we all wish for enough rehearsals, with enough time to really and thoroughly learn the new works, or even the more standard works. In a long performance career, more time for rehearsal seems to be the most difficult  thing to achieve.

To be continued

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