John Corigliano – Clarinet Concerto

July 13, 2013

TheMasterDecoder·15 videos

Stanley Druker, clarinet

This was performed by the New York Philharmonic, conducted by Zubin Mehta.

I. Cadenzas 0:00
II. Elegy 9:00
III. Antiphonal Toccata 17:35

The world premiere took place on December 6, 1977, in New York, with soloist Stanley Drucker and the New York Philharmonic directed by Leonard Bernstein. The piece and the performances were great successes. Commissioned by the Philharmonic, the Clarinet Concerto is dedicated to Drucker and Bernstein. Allan Kozinn, writing in the New York Times, lavished praise on the piece: “It is indeed a sophisticated work with a complex formal structure and a harmonic base that takes in everything from major/minor tonality to clusters and 12-tone rows… It also aims for visceral appeal.” The Philharmonic took the Concerto on European tours in 1977 and 1980.

When Corigliano received the commission for the Clarinet Concerto, he wanted to utilize every player in the group, giving many of them solos. At times, the piece sounds like a concerto for orchestra. Having had lessons with Drucker, Corigliano was intimately familiar with the clarinetist’s technique and was inspired to write a technically demanding clarinet part. Corigliano recalls that the sheer size of the score surprised Bernstein, who was expecting a much shorter piece.

Corigliano’s score calls for a plethora of percussion instruments and he uses them often. Antiphonal groups of brass and woodwinds, placed in the balconies of the hall, create an effect bordering on the theatrical.

The composer says of his Concerto, “I think of the first two movements as being terribly serious and the last as a kind of festival for all players.” The first movement, “Cadenzas”, consists of two virtuosic cadenzas separated by an orchestra-dominated interlude. The first cadenza, Ignis fatuus (Will-o-the-wisp), is a rapid, whispering series of runs on the clarinet supported by a dissonant chord (E flat, D, A, E) in the strings. The interlude begins as the orchestra plays transformations of the first clarinet run at a much slower tempo. When the clarinet enters it tries to increase the tempo before beginning a conversation with the trombones. Intensity grows until crashing percussion marks the beginning of the second cadenza, Corona solis (Crown of the sun). The melodic material and harmony of the first cadenza return, but are more energized. After a powerful climax involving the entire orchestra, the intensity diminishes until the sound disappears.

“Elegy” is the title of the second movement. Corigliano wrote the movement in memory of his father, creating a dialogue for the clarinet and violin. Two ideas dominate the movement, the first sounding in the strings, the second played on the solo clarinet. The same mood persists throughout the movement, which closes with a lengthy violin line supported by the clarinet.

In the finale, “Antiphonal Toccata”, brass and wind instruments are placed around the auditorium. Corigliano quotes the Sonata Pian e Forte of Giovanni Gabrieli, the sixteenth-century master of antiphonal instrumental choirs. This motif mutates into a 12-note chord that informs much of what occurs later. When the offstage instruments enter, they deliberately play music that is rhythmically unsynchronized with the onstage instruments.