EARLY 20th CENTURY Clarinet Music




In the first decades of 20th-century Russia, solo works and chamber music for the clarinet were still scarce. One reason for this might be that the Russian tradition of professional wind instrument playing, and more specifically here of clarinet playing, was relatively new and still dominated by foreign players. Furthermore, the image of the clarinet as an orchestral and wind band instrument, especially in military music, was widespread. Despite their scarcity, the clarinet compositions from the early 20th century form an alluring, yet widely unexplored, aspect of the clarinet repertoire that deserves further attention among performers. Clarinet works from the beginning of the 20th century include the Petite Ballade for clarinet and piano (1902) by Théodore Akimenko (1876–1945) and Esquisse op.45/2 for clarinet and piano (1913) by Nikolay Tcherepnin (1873–1945). Various clarinet compositions with Jewish themes were composed also in this period. The first clarinet compositions in this field were the Esquisses Hébraïques No.1 and No.2 by Aleksandr Krein (1883–1951), written in 1909 and 1910. Clarinet music with Jewish themes is further discussed in Chapter 4.

Throughout the subsequent decades, the number of clarinet compositions slowly but steadily started to increase. As mentioned above, Sergey Rozanov was the first Russian conservatory professor. Rozanov also was one of the first clarinetists in Russia to maintain active collaborations with composers, who dedicated several works to him.  In 1921 Aleksandr Gedike (Goedicke) (1877–1957) composed a small set of pieces for clarinet and piano, Nocturne and Etude op.28, dedicated to Rozanov. Sergey Vasilenko (1872–1956) in turn dedicated his Oriental Dance op.47 for clarinet and piano (1924) to Rozanov.  Rozanov also was one of the founding members of the first conductorless symphony orchestra Persimfans (Pervyi simfonichesky ansambl bez dirizhera), which gave weekly concerts in Russia between 1922 and 1932 (Ponyatovsky 2003, 4). 

Furthermore, various woodwind quartets and quintets can be found from this period. However, it is difficult to get an overview of the clarinet repertoire from the first decades of the 20th century in Russia for various reasons. First, some works were lost or destroyed during the Revolution and Civil War. Second, due to the large emigration wave in this period, not all locations of the works are clear, having been spread over other parts of the world along with the composers. Finally, music publishing was subject to major changes in these instable times as well; pre-revolutionary publishers stopped or moved their activity abroad, while the new Soviet editions were yet to come into being. 


Avant-garde Movements

At the beginning of the 20th century in Russia, especially in St Petersburg, a vivid
avant-garde scene developed in literature and the arts, as well as in the field of music. One of the central figures of this period was composer-writer Arthur Lourié (1893–1966).  After the Revolution, Lourié became head of the Department of Music (MUZO, muzykalnyi otdel narodnogo kommissariata prosveshcheniya) and then unexpectedly emigrated in 1922 (Gojowy 1980, 99). He composed only one work for the clarinet, The Mime in 1956, while living in the US. Thus, concerning clarinet music, Lourié is not connected to avant-garde, but to emigration (see 9.1).

In Russia at the beginning of the 20th century, new works by European composers, such as Schoenberg and Debussy, were performed in the Evenings of Contemporary Music. The clarinet stayed rather aside of these new musical explorations, probably due to the limited availability of suitable local clarinetists. One of the few works for the clarinet from this time seems regrettably to have been lost or destroyed: Ballade for clarinet, cello and piano op.17 (initially op.10) by Aleksandr Mosolov (1899/1900–1973) (Gojowy 1980, 126). There is evidence that the Ballade was premiered in 1925 in Leningrad, but no further information has been found on this work since then. Judging by other, highly innovative compositions by Mosolov from this period, the fate of this clarinet composition is worth undertaking further research. 

At the same time musical experiments with microtonality started appearing. Most famous is the music for quartertone piano by Ivan Wyshnegradsky. Also, Georgy Rimsky-Korsakov (1893–1979), nephew of Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov, formed a Circle of Quartertone in the Petrograd Conservatory in 1923. There is evidence that some experiments also were performed with clarinets. Georgy Rimsky-Korsakov composed a Quintet with clarinet in 1925 and later an Octet with clarinets and two emiritons (an early electrical piano). Unfortunately, however, the entire archive of Georgy Rimsky-Korsakov from this time was lost during World War II (Ader 2009, 42). In 1925 Aleksandr Kenel (1898–1970) composed a Sonata for quartertone ensemble with two clarinets in different pitches (Bb and A clarinets) (Ader 2009, 39). The intonation between these two clarinets is unequal, which might – intentionally or not – have resulted in micro-intervals. It is not clear whether any microtonal works for the clarinet have survived from this time, but this would be a highly interesting field for further research as well. As a consequence, we had to wait until the late 1960s to see micro-intervals appearing in Soviet clarinet music, namely in the work of Edison Denisov and the fellow composers in his circle.