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Concerto for clarinet and orchestra (clarinet with full orchestra)

by Nicholas Routley (2009)

Also known as: Clarinet concerto

Concerto for clarinet and orchestra


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Concerto for clarinet and orchestra / Nicholas Routley

Library shelf no. Q 784.2862186/ROU 1 [Available for loan]

Concerto for clarinet and orchestra

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Work Overview

Much of my recent music has focussed on the Indian epic, Mahabharata. I associate the clarinet with the character Draupadi, a princess born from fire, who becomes the wife of all five of the Pandava brothers. When one of her husbands gambles all his possessions away, including her and even himself, she has no choice but to put up with years of exile; but all the time she burns for revenge on those who cheated her husband.

The classical form of my concerto reflects Draupadi's status as a princess. But although its frames of reference are classical, from time to time the frames crack, to reveal as it were an interior world full of anguish, pathos, and anger . In this respect, as in scale, it more resembles those Romantic concertos whose protagonist is conceived as an individual struggling with destiny, sometimes seeming to assert control only to lose it again.

The first movement's main sections are signposted by the woodwind flourish with which the piece begins. It has three main themes. The first is lyrical, quoting from a well-known Mozart piano concerto; the second wild, with a somewhat Arabic flavour; and the third a passage of deep longing. The development contains a trio for the principal clarinet and the two orchestral clarinets based on the first theme, as well as another version of the third theme. The recapitulation starts with a fragment of the main theme, but this is brushed away by the flourish which leads straight into the second theme. Towards the end of the movement a new phrase is heard which becomes important in the finale.

The second movement takes place mainly in an interior world, only venturing outdoors to hear birdsong in the brief middle section. A beautiful theme seems to implore destiny to be kinder, but this appears later as a funeral march. The movement ends in despair.

The finale is a tarantella with one semiquaver missing from the usual 12/16 bars. The tarantella is a Sicilian dance (so it might be playful) whose steps are motivated by the need to avoid stepping on a poisonous spider (so it could be lethal). The tarantella itself has two sections, the second mainly for the soloist and bongos, but it is interrupted by two melodramatic passages. The second of these, characterised by a heavily dotted rhythm, leads eventually to a climax that is altogether too heavy for the tarantella, which pretends for a moment not to be affected by it…after the cadenza (improvised) the work finishes angrily, a woman's voice railing at destiny.


Work Details

Year: 2009

Instrumentation: Piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets in B flat, 2 trombones, bass trombone, timpani, percussion (2 players), marimba, vibraphone, harp, solo clarinet, strings.

Duration: 32 min.

Difficulty: Advanced — Finale is presto in 11/8

Contents note: 1. Allegro moderato -- 2. Lento, desolate -- 3. Tarantella: Presto scherzando.

Dedication note: Dedicated to Martin Jarvis

Commission note: Commissioned by Darwin Symphony Orchestra.

First performance: by David Thomas, Darwin Symphony Orchestra, Nicholas Routley at Darwin Symphony Orchestra (The Playhouse, Darwin Entertainment Centre) on 19 Nov 2009


Performances of this work

15 Aug 10: Malvern Town Hall. Featuring Nicholas Routley, David Thomas, Stonnington Symphony.

15 Aug 2010: at Stonnington Symphony (Malvern Town Hall). Featuring Vladimir Vais, Stonnington Symphony, David Thomas.

19 Nov 2009: at Darwin Symphony Orchestra (The Playhouse, Darwin Entertainment Centre). Featuring Darwin Symphony Orchestra, Nicholas Routley, David Thomas.

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