for Clarinet and String Quartet (1987)




Edison Denisov (Эдисон Васильевич Денисов, 1929, Tomsk – 1996, Paris; see 7.2) composed the Quintet for clarinet (in B-flat) and string quartet in 1987, dedicated to clarinetist Eduard Brunner.[1] In comparison to Denisov’s most performed clarinet work, the Sonata for clarinet solo (1972), the style of the Quintet is less exploratory, but features a certain neoclassical allure (Kholopov and Tsenova 1993, 122). The role of the radical avant-garde composer and pioneer, which Denisov held in the 1960/70s, had moved to the younger generation, such as to his student Vladimir Tarnopolsky. 

This Quintet refers to one of the greatest works of the clarinet music repertoire: to Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet KV 581. In his own idiomatic musical language, Denisov approaches a Mozartian transparency, striving for beauty, simplicity and perfection in his Quintet.

The Clarinet Quintet consists of three movements:
1. Agitato
2. Molto tranquillo
3. Agitato

The total duration of the composition is approximately 17 minutes, with the third movement being exceptionally short.

[1] Clarinetist Eduard Brunner (1939–2017) has commissioned various clarinet works by Soviet composers, premiered, performed and recorded contemporary Soviet / Russian compositions since the 1980s.

Video ex.8.1.1: Opening passage (Denisov, Quintet, mvt 1, mm. 1-13)


The clarinet plays an opening passage of the first movement of the quintet, Agitato, which is a clear allusion to the arpeggio of the clarinet entrance in Mozart’s quintet (Video ex. 8.1.1: Opening passage). In Denisov’s Quintet, monorhythmic chords appear in a dynamic, punctuated form, whereas the chords in Mozart’s quintet are more static, equal and calm. The final section of the first movement reminds one of a chorale, anticipating the upcoming slow movement with soft dynamics.

Video ex.8.1.2: Canonic motive (Denisov, Quintet, mvt. 2, mm. 1-15)


In terms of playing feeling and atmosphere, the clarinet part of the second movement, Lento, evokes the strongest associations with Mozart. The clarinet introduces a delicate cantilena. To me as a clarinetist, the manner of playing in the long and soft melody lines feels physically very close to Mozart, through the delicate phrasing and the “endless” use of breath. Mozart often gave a clear accompanying role to the string quartet, playing serene broken chords under the clarinet melody. In Denisov’s work, all five players are equally involved. The strings repeat the clarinet melody in a free fugato, which creates a more interwoven, polyphonic sound world (Video ex. 8.1.2: Canonic motive). Denisov introduces extended clarinet playing techniques one by one in a very sophisticated manner. Frullato, micro-intervals and multiphonics gradually widen the sound specter of the ensemble, without deviating from the transparent soundscape (Video ex.8.1.3: Micro-Intervals).


Video ex.8.1.3: Micro-Intervals (Denisov, Quintet, mvt. 2, mm.51-57)


The last movement, Agitato, is composed in a very concise form and with a duration of less than three minutes – the shortest of all of the movements. In this capriccio-like miniature, thematic fragments from the first and second movements return. Rhythmical, fast staccatissimo passages come along like needles, or like dots in a pointillist painting. These quick passages are very reminiscent of the second movement of Denisov’s famous Sonata for clarinet solo. Very special moments are created throughout the entire movement, when grand pauses mute the ensemble. As if taking a moment to listen to the silence and recapitulate what is going on around one, these breaks appear more and more often towards the end of this masterpiece of its genre. The quintet ends very softly in upward movements, vanishing into nothing (Video ex.8.1.4: Vanishing ending).


Video ex.11.1.4: Vanishing ending (Denisov, Quintet, mvt. 3, mm.41-46)



Anne Elisabeth Piirainen, clarinet 

FINESTre string quartet: 

Kati Tuominen-Heroja, I-violin 

Heidi Kuula, II-violin 

Heili Hannikainen, viola 

Elina Sipilä, cello

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4th doctoral concert "Echoes of the Past"

03.10.2017, Helsinki Music Centre