5.2 Krein: Poème - Clarinet Music from Russia and the Soviet Union 1917-1991
for Clarinet and Piano (1940)
Without knowing the origins of Poème for clarinet (in B-flat) and piano, the listener might easily contextualize this small piece as French music: impressionistic harmonies as they could appear in Claude Debussy’s works, and smooth clarinet passages as they might appear in works by André Messager or Gabriel Pierné. But in fact, Grigory Krein (Григорий Абрамович Крейн, 1879, Nizhny Novgorod–1955, Komarovo) simply mirrored the atmosphere of the French fin de siècle, composing the work actually in rather precarious circumstances in the Soviet Union under Stalin. Krein composed Poème in 1940, in the same period as his Quartet (see 4.6) and Rhapsody (see 4.7). In opposition to these other two clarinet works by Krein, there are no direct references to Jewish traditional music present in Poème, and therefore it is discussed here and not in the previous chapter. While his Quartet was published and his Rhapsody was prepared for publication, only a manuscript in poor quality remained of Poème, without any indication that the work was further prepared for publication. This fine composition could be a charming addition to the clarinet repertoire if only a thoroughly edited performance edition could be realized.
Poème consists of one movement, Moderato, with a duration of approximately 5 minutes. Besides its affinity to impressionistic French music, Poème also embodies oriental musical elements. Iambic rhythms, ornamentations in the clarinet part and characteristic minor intervals create a refined oriental flair. The subtitle, Slow Dance, and especially the small handwritten marking Yezidi traditional melody refer to the music which Krein most probably got acquainted with during visits to the Caucasus (Video ex.8.2.1: Yezidi folk melody). On the outside, Krein is in his Poème fulfilling the Stalinist musical ideal of using folk music themes from national minorities of the multinational Soviet Union. If one takes a closer look, however, one can see that Krein composed a very Western work, leaning closely on musical ideas as they were in fashion in fin-de-siècle France. Krein, who very actively used Jewish themes in his compositions from earlier decades, abandoned them for the most part under Stalin.
Video ex.5.2.1: Yezidi folk melody (Krein, Poème, mm. 22-35 )
Poème is a very sensitive and even fragile work. It is demanding for the clarinetist from the point of view of sound quality and sound control, with ascending long melodic lines up to the g''' in soft dynamics. Connections to French impressionist music are obvious in smooth, vivid clarinet passages, such as in the small cadenzas (Video ex.8.2.2: French Touch).
At first sight, the music presents itself as unpretentious, but the way the main Yezidi melody evolves in the clarinet part reveals a more severe undertone: The Yezidi melody descends towards the end into the chalumeau register, even in the piano part. The ending is somber and pessimistic — a sharp contrast to the goal of triumphant, glorious and illustrious music promoted by the Stalin doctrine. It remains an open question whether this feature and its French character are among the reasons for the fact that Poème remained unpublished and fell into oblivion. A revival of this composition would bring justice to the musical value of Poème.
Video ex.5.2.2: French Touch (Krein, Poème, mm. 36-49)
Anne Elisabeth Piirainen, clarinet
Kirill Kozlovski, piano
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4th doctoral concert "Echoes of the Past"
03.10.2017, Camerata Hall, Helsinki Music Centre