for Clarinet and String Quartet (1988)



Maija Einfelde (b.1939, Valmiera, Latvia) studied composition with Jānis Ivanovs at the Latvian State Conservatory. Her vast compositional output includes, besides vocal and choir works, chamber music and clarinet works such as Rudenī (In Autumn, clarinet solo, 1989), From Ancient Times (clarinet quartet, 1992) and Before Sunrise (clarinet, viola and piano, 1994).[1] Topics related to nature play an important role in Einfelde's work. In Mournful Serenades, Three Songs for the Dying Sea (Skumjās Serenādes) for clarinet (in B-flat) and string quartet, Einfelde tackles the topic of the pollution of the Baltic Sea. Einfelde composed Mournful Serenades in 1988. Around that time, awareness and concern of environmental problems was growing rapidly in the former Soviet Union. At the same time, the independence movement in the Baltic states emerged. In the musical and cultural field, a previously unseen openness towards the West led to manifold new cultural contacts and exchanges, for example Latvian compositions increasingly being performed abroad, and growing cooperation between musicians from the Baltic and Western countries. 


The Clarinet quintet Mournful Serenades was first performed and recorded in 1988 by Latvian musicians. [2]The score, however, was only published in 2015 (Einfelde 2015). The instrumentation of clarinet and string quartet appears rarely among compositions from the Soviet Union, the few exceptions being the clarinet quintets by Lokshin and Denisov. Einfelde contributed a refined composition to the clarinet repertoire, including a strong alertness about the future of our planet – a work which is worthwhile to be performed far more often. 


The Quintet Mournful Serenades consists of three movements with a total duration of approximately 12 minutes:

1. Molto moderato

2. Allegretto 

3. Adagio

All movements are performed attacca and are thematically closely interwoven. The second movement was written for unaccompanied clarinet. 


The title and subtitle of the work, Mournful Serenades, Three Songs for the Dying Sea, indicate a programmatic content. One possible approach to this composition is through exploring those musical elements, which refer to natural phenomena and can awaken associations with the main subject of the composition, the sea and its pollution. One image of the sea is calm and peaceful and at the same time providing beautiful and broad vistas. But within a short time, the sea can change into a dangerous place: threatening, wild and stormy. In the composition, sharp contrasts appear between consonant and dissonant musical passages, which can be interpreted in this context as a deliberate cliché expression of purity and dirtiness. There is always a threatening undertone present, even in the lyrical passages. 


The clarinet opens the first movement, Molto moderato, with a calm, long line of ascending sevenths in a soft dynamic on a sostenuto chord built by the strings. If continuing the imaginary picture of nature, the strings could represent the peaceful, mirror-smooth sea, while the clarinet escapes the somewhat threatening chord by reaching the highest note like a single sunbeam between clouds. Soon the clarinet ascends again, to a repeated triton, as if announcing some far-off danger; then reaching back to the low g (sounding F), where it started from. The clarinet plays here legatissimo with smooth interval transitions, aiming for a clear and beautiful sound colour. In the next section (rehearsal mark 1), the viola comes in with a gently rocking wave movement in a steady rhythm of seconds, accompanied by the cello with an ostinato low d. The rocking movement is soon taken over by the second violin. The strings play non vibrato, underlining the calm atmosphere. The clarinet joins into the slow Waltz movement, as if not foreseeing any danger to come (video ex.8.7.1: Waves).

[1] Further information on the composer and her works is available on the website of the Latvian Music Information Centre:

[2] The first performance was played in 1988 in Riga by Ģirts Pāže, Natālija Daševska, Tatjana Volkova, Georgs Brīnums and Oļegs Barskovs.

Video ex.8.7.1: Waves (Einfelde, Serenades, mvt. 1, mm. 1-16)


The clarinet plays the entire second movement, Allegretto, alone. Starting with a signal call, it evolves to imitating the wave-like movements (video ex.8.11.2: Signal Call). Several special playing techniques and effects are used in this movement, such as tremolo, quasi glissando and multiphonics. Einfelde enhances the contrast between pure and impure by means of sound: the clarinet plays a multiphonic on the sounding note a, followed by the natural a. The use of thematic material is rather minimalistic, and melodic fragments spin around the same few notes repeatedly. 


Video ex.8.7.2: Signal call  (Einfelde, Serenades, mvt. 2, mm. 1-9)


The third movement, Adagio cantabile, sempre espressivo, develops the agitation of the waves until the highpoint, as in a furious tempest, with vast unison passages in the strings and an insisting repetition of motives, up to grotesque extremes, also on the dynamic plan (Video ex.8.7.3: Disturbance). The work ends in serenity, peaceful as the mirror-like surface of the calm sea after a tempest. 

Video ex.8.7.3: Disturbance (Einfelde, Serenades, mvt. 3, mm. 64-72)



Anne Elisabeth Piirainen, clarinet

Eeva Oksala, violin

Lea Tuuri, violin

Leena Jaakkola, violin

Carmen Moggach-Laivaara, viola

Liina-Mari Raivola, cello 

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3rd doctoral concert "Facets of Expression" 

27.09.2016, Helsinki Music Centre