Giving a Masterclass in Contemporary Clarinet Playing – Part I

As a sequel to my presentation at La Conservatoire de musique de Montréal in October 2010, I have been invited to give a masterclass on extended clarinet techniques and contemporary interpretation. Speaking with Jean-François Normand about possible forms of the masterclass, we came to the conclusion that we would have a very open and mixed form of lessons. We decided to have a masterclass of two phases with a one-week break in between to give students time to digest the outcomes of the first phase. In the first phase, which took place last week on Monday and Tuesday (7 and 8 March), I offered individual lessons to those who were working on a contemporary solo piece, as well as a group session in which we worked on some special techniques. This article is about the pieces we chose for the individual lessons. The group session of the first phase as well as the lessons of the second phase of the masterclass will be discussed in articles coming soon.

For the individual lessons the students were either asked to bring a piece that they are currently working on or to choose from a list of easy solo pieces I submitted several weeks before my visit. The pieces I proposed should meet several criteria to make them good study objects for first (or second) steps in contemporary interpretation:

– Some of the pieces should use extended techniques such as easily speaking multiphonics (with fingerings given; searching for multiphonic fingerings is required at an advanced level), fluttertongue, slap tongue, glissandi and simple microtones;
– Of course, we wanted quality pieces that are worth practising and performing;
– Unusual notations are welcome;
– The pieces should be suitable as an addition to the student’s current program, i.e. not very difficult

The pieces listed for the masterclass were the following:

Helmut Reinbothe: Duell allein* (1986)
Rolf Thomas Lorenz: Solo della ramificazione* (1981)
Jörg Widman: Fantasy (1993)
Karlheinz Stockhausen: The first two movements from Amour (Cheer up and Your Angel is Watching Over You) (1974)
Ilse Fromm-Michaels: Stimmungen eines Fauns (1921)
Alina Maria Dumbrava: Das Ereignis (2006)
Henri Pousseur: Madrigal I (1958)
Luciano Berio: Lied (1983)
Krzysztof Penderecki: Prelude (1987)
Hans Ulrich Lehmann: Mosaik (1964)

The first piece, by Reinbothe, was chosen by the youngest student. It contains an easy and short fluttertongue passage, some glissandi and two or three easy multiphonics. The piece makes a beautiful effect by the use of a piano resonance in some parts of it; the technical requirements easily suit an undergraduate student.
Solo della ramificazione by Rolf Thomas Lorenz has, after a lyrical introduction, a middle part of many very short sketches of three characters: a) funny; b) important, assertive; c) instable, improvisation-like. They are mixed up by the interpreter spontaneously.
Jörg Widmann, nowadays professor for clarinet and composition at Musikhochschule Freiburg, composed his ″Fantasy″ in 1993. A virtuoso piece, though comfortable for the clarinetist, which uses few special effects (one multiphonic, microtonal trills, key noises and glissandi) and forms a dazzling, humorous performance.
Amour by Stockhausen has five movements, and only the first two are easy and comfortable for young students. They do not contain any special techniques but are a good start to study Stockhausen’s musical language.
Stimmungen eines Fauns by Ilse Fromm-Michaels is not a “modern” piece in that sense, no special techniques, but a great expression. It is an early 20th century piece, written in the beginning of the 1920s. It is quite popular in Germany, and it is worth making it known abroad. The three short movements are character pieces titled Klage (grievance), Schalkslaune (waggishness) and Schwermut (melancholia).
Romanian composer Alina Maria Dumbrava offers a lively, folktune-like piece with beautiful melodic and rhythmic leaps, using a few multiphonics to increase the piece’s enchanting effect as well as small glissandi, slap and fluttertongue and some microtones. A little challenge: the glissando tremolo at the beginning of the piece.
Madrigal I by Henri Pousseur is a very free piece. Good for getting used to awkward notations.
Luciano Berio’s Lied is a quality piece playing with fast tone repetitions in various dynamics and attacks. Very easy!
Prelude by Penderecki, very short piece for a very young student or someone who hardly has any time to prepare.
Mosaik by Hans-Ulrich Lehmann is one of the very first pieces using extended techniques on the clarinet. The notation is slightly unconventional. The piece is not very easy for a beginner in contemporary techniques but for classroom can be studied in excerpts.

Also, I got acquainted with two pieces that were brought by the students and that I had not known before:

Harry Freedman: Lines (1973); simple piece by a well-known Canadian composer.
Suzanne Hébert-Tremblay: Oiseaux de nuit (1989); a beautiful piece by a Canadian clarinetist composer, very ″bird-like″, with bisbigliandi and microtonal trills.

*Published in the compilation ″Zum Üben und Konzertieren. 22 Stücke für Klarinette allein″, edited by Frank Klüger, Leipzig 1988

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About msmullerful

Freelance musician (clarinetist), mostly involved in contemporary music projects but still able to play the classic repertoire.
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