A Glass of Chianti

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Underplayed Clarinet Lit for $100, Alex

From time to time, usually by one of the parents of my students, I'll be asked what my favorite piece for clarinet is. It's an incredibly difficult question to answer. My favorite piece when I'm listening to somebody else playing is, far and away, Camille Saint-Saens's Sonata. It's delicate and subtle and each time I hear it, I hear something new. You walk a tightrope, though. The first movement can drag. If this happens, there is no goodwill left to carry you through to the end of the fourth.

The best piece written for clarinet is almost unquestionably Mozart's Concerto*. Because the concerto is undeniably great, and the parent has undoubtedly heard of Mozart, I usually answer with the concerto. Plus, it is buckets of fun.

If the questioner really is wanting to know my favorite piece to play... That's easy. I love to play the Rondo from Bernhard Crusell Second Concerto. It's not Great Music like I learned in music school. It has.... Melodies!.... Harmonies!....Major scale runs!** I love it for the most completely shallow of reasons - because it makes me feel great when I play it. It's heady and I feel a little out of breath when I'm done. It's not unlike that first moment off the plane when I finally get to my destination. It feels like I've arrived just in time for something magical to happen. It feels like that one split second before a first kiss, in much the same way, I guess.

But, you talk about semi-obscure Finnish composers and people think you're nuts and shouldn't be trusted with their kids. So, I answer Mozart. I don't feel like I'm telling a lie and that night after lessons are done, I go home and play the third movement of Op. 5 in the closet. It's a pretty good arrangement, I've found. ;)

*Though, we should open the door just a bit. The "Parto, parto" aria from La clemenza di Tito surely needs the clarinet obbligato as much it needs Sesto. Meh, that's the clarinetist talking ;) Still, though, it's glorious.
**I should note that I also play Hindemith's Sonata for fun too often for a sane woman. Go figure.