9.2 Agopov: Sonata op.6 - Clarinet Music from Russia and the Soviet Union 1917-1991
for Clarinet and Piano (1981)
Vladimir Agopov (Владимир Михайлович Агопов; b.1953, Voroshilovgrad/Luhansk, Ukraine) studied composition with Aram Khachaturian and instrumentation with Edison Denisov at the Moscow Conservatory. After his emigration from the former Soviet Union to Finland in 1978, Agopov continued his studies with Paavo Heininen at the Sibelius Academy Helsinki, where Agopov has been lecturer since 1982. In 1981 Heininen tasked Agopov with writing a work using dodecaphonic composition techniques. The result was the Sonata op.6 for clarinet (in B-flat) and piano. The composition is dedicated to clarinetist Kullervo Kojo. The Sonata was (re)published in 2015 (Agopov 2015).
Agopov explores in the Sonata for clarinet and piano op.6 many-sided emotional states and diversified expressive patterns in a dodecaphonic setting. The Sonata consists of three movements with a total duration of approximately 20 minutes:
At the opening of the first movement, Largo, the clarinet solo presents the following twelve-tone row (sounding notes): g, e, g♭, d, f, e♭, a, b, a♭, c, b♭, d♭ (Video ex.9.2.1: 12-tone row). This tone row re-appears in various forms throughout the entire composition, following the twelve-tone compositional procedure. The row also occurs divided into four-note fragments, but in a changed order, until the row is complete again. The sounding note G has a central position in this Sonata.
Video ex.9.2.1: 12-tone row (Agopov, Sonata op. 6, mvt. 1, mm.1-12)
The stately atmosphere of the beginning changes into a cheerful section, Allegro. Accentuated eighth notes in the left hand of the piano create a “walking bass”-feeling, distracted by an uneven 5/8 time signature and through changing accentuations (Video ex.9.2.2: Accentuation). Colourful effects enhance the multi-faceted development of this movement: free and serene passages alternate with playful lines with characteristic, repeated grace notes on the same note in the clarinet and piano.
Video ex.9.2.2: Accentuation (Agopov, Sonata op. 6, mvt. 1, mm. 33-44)
The second movement, Adagio, exposes the inversion of the tone row in a lyrical mood, as in a clarinet cantilena. The atmosphere is serene, nearly romantic, played with a very smooth legato. The melodic intonation and the manner of the clarinetist using the air flow to produce long, slurred lines bring to mind the second movement of Poulenc´s Clarinet Sonata, Romance (Video ex.9.2.3: Enchantment).
Video ex.9.2.3: Enchantment (Agopov, Sonata op. 6, mvt. 2, mm. 5-13)
In the final movement, Vivace, clarinet and piano are chasing each other, catching up like in a game of cat-and-mouse. This chasing passage leads into a virtuosic clarinet cadenza in the form of a three-voice fugue. The challenge for the clarinetist in this cadenza is to bring out the different melody lines clearly within the polyphonic structure – as in the three-voiced fugue in Artyomov’s Sonata for clarinet solo No.1 (see 7.1). Agopov´s Sonata op.6 calms down towards the end, bringing back thematic fragments from all three movements, based on the same twelve-tone row (Video ex.9.2.4: Simplicity).
In the beginning it is challenging to approach this composition. The first step is to identify the row in the basic version and in the various forms of appearance. The row gets gradually familiar during the rehearsal process, tracing and encountering it again and again in different shapes, until it gradually starts to feel one’s own. Also, it is challenging to find the deeper, hidden layers in the work; it is in a way like rethinking one’s compositional ideas: how a motive develops, where it comes back, and in which form. Initially it feels exciting, like a kind of detective work, and turns successively into a rewarding closeness to the musical material. When the initial distance to the musical language vanishes, the expressive and emotional content comes to the foreground. Especially exciting is some hidden musical humor, in the form of alienating the melody so far from the original that it is seen and heard only on a deeper level. The composition is a demanding work and technically challenging for the clarinetist. Long passages in the altissimo register and the tone range up to c4 require a strong embouchure. The entire composition is rather long, and the clarinet plays almost all the time, which requires much physical energy from the performer and a good condition. Even more challenging is the ensemble playing among pianist and clarinetist. The detailed rhythmic structure requires great precision: at some points the melody is fractured over both parts in small-scale rhythmical patterns. Even though the melody changes frequently between the two players, it is essential to comprehend both parts equally well. Also, for the audience this work may not be accessible at first listening. This work could benefit from, for example, a small introductory lecture, presenting the row and showing up some specific features within the work, as a guide through the beautiful, yet weighty composition.
Video ex.9.2.4: Simplicity (Agopov, Sonata op. 6, mvt. 3, mm.139-145)
Anne Elisabeth Piirainen, clarinet
Kirill Kozlovski, piano
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5th doctoral concert "Beyond Borders"
31.05.2018, Helsinki Music Centre