A Glass of Chianti

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Underplayed clarinet lit for $300, Alex

Thomas Dunhill's Phantasy Suite for clarinet a piano is not just unfamiliar to the music world in general, it's really obscure in the clarinet world as well. It's not on the Texas PML (which dictates what students can play at the state contest) and it frustrates me to no end that is the case. Each time I have introduced it to a student for summer work, they fall in love with it. I'd really like the state committee to adopt it, but my petitions have gone unacknowledged.

This is understated, short, conservative salon music. I like giving it to late high school students because it plays with some dissonances and modern harmony, but in manageable bites. The first movement is incredibly expressive with long phrases and long notes. It's slightly sad, and ends on a wistful note. What's cool about it for kids is that it explores all three registers of the clarinet and does so musically. The highest notes aren't just circus tricks pulled out to impress and without musical meaning. (Mr. Carl Maria vonWeber, I'm looking directly at you). They're organic here and it's nice to see good writing that takes advantage of the entire range.

I really like the fourth and fifth movements. They are short - only about a minute and a half a piece - but really explore the different moods you can create with the instrument. The fourth movement is probably the most harmonically dense of the six, and really has the best writing for both the clarinet and piano working together. It's incredibly slow and incredibly sad - so self-consciously sad that you really are glad it only lasts for a minute and a half. The fifth movement is different in every way. It's a fast, jaunty dance. It's a little too precious, but it really is fun. It gets a pass despite being too cute because it only lasts for 90 seconds.

Maybe the reason it works so well with moody, high school kids is because it's a moody, passionate piece. This doesn't really help explain why I like it, though, because I don't particularly think of myself as moody. ;)