Clarinet Quintet for multiple clarinets and string quartet commissioned and first performed by clarinettist Ronald Woodley with the Fitzwilliam Quartet.
instrumentation: contrabass clarinet, bass clarinet, clarinets in B flat, D and E flat
string quartet with egg shakers, claves, Swannee whistles and voices.
Recording available on Intricate Web double album.
The Clarinet Quintet Sea-change (2016) was commissioned by the clarinettist Ronald Woodley in 2010 with the brief to compose ‘something beautiful, extravagant, wild’ for five of his different-sized clarinets ranging from the gentle giant of the contrabass up to soprano clarinets in D and E flat. I finally completed this challenge in 2016. One of the key issues was to provide enough time for the clarinettist to change from one instrument to another, and I set about creating a ‘choreography’ of clarinets.
My starting point for this piece is my own experiences when trying to meditate. When ‘following the breath’ in meditation I find the mind is ready to focus at the beginning of the process. The first breaths are pure, uncluttered by distractions. But as time goes on, thoughts can intrude. Sometimes the mind is drawn back to the meditative calm and at other times the dreams or nightmares take over.
The piece begins with a steady rotation around each of the five clarinets centred around the note G below middle C, which sounds subtlydifferent on each. The music then flows into a series of scenes, with each clarinet representing a different fantasy drawn from David Hart’s Crag Inspector, a poem that I have been exploring musically for some time (e.g. in Inflorescence (2011) for saxophone and piano, and Almost...(2012) for saxophone octet).
Fragments of the poem are inscribed in the score at the beginning of each new scene: By candlelight I sing/to be a poet through the night (D clarinet), I should have been sea (bass clarinet), Clear, long seal song (B flat clarinet), The fog horn is the great god of the seals (contrabass clarinet), A bird named Gwennol calls/ and speaks to me in a language of loops and shines (E flat clarinet), A seal has risen/ with a steady eye (B flat clarinet). Also appearing from time to time is a rustic, rhythmic dance.
The music incorporates a wealth of unusual sounds: from the clarinet, throat growls, enharmonic trills, squeaks and huffs; and the from the quartet, not only a range of vocal shushes and clicks but also egg shakers, claves and Swannee whistles – so that each player effectively has five instruments.
This work forms the foundation of a subsequent work Scintilla for clarinets and live electronics with dancer. LJ