for Clarinet, Violin, Cello and Piano (1939/40)




Grigory Krein (Григорий Абрамович Крейн, 1879, Nizhny Novgorod–1955, Komarovo), together with his brother Aleksandr Krein, was one of the most influential composers of the so-called New Jewish School (see Chapter 4). He studied violin at the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory, and composition with Reinhold Glière, and later with Max Reger in Leipzig. Around the time of the Russian Revolution, Krein was known as a remarkable avant-garde composer in Moscow musical circles. He left the newly-founded Soviet Union and lived for several years in Vienna, Berlin and Paris. After his return to the Soviet Union in 1936, he faced repression under Stalin’s regime due to his Jewish roots. From 1938 until the beginning of the war in 1941, Krein worked on a contractual basis for the state directorate of musical institutions (Gosudarstvennoe upravlenie muzykal’nykh uchrezhdenii). The directorate commissioned chamber music from Krein. In this period, he composed the Quartet for clarinet, violin, cello, piano (1939/40), Poème (clarinet and piano, 1940), Rhapsody (clarinet and piano, 1941) and Quintet / Suite (flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano, 1941). Earlier he also composed the Jewish Rhapsody for clarinet, string quartet and piano op. 32 (1925). The Quartet is the only work from this commission which has been published. Krein spent the war in Tashkent, where he was in contact with other composers such as Miecysław Weinberg. Krein returned to Moscow in 1943, but he gave up his work as composer in 1948 (Nemtsov 2008, 263).
The Quartet for clarinet (in B-flat), violin, cello and piano (1939/40) is a graceful combination of elements from Jewish folk music and the atmosphere of French Impressionism. The instrumentation of the Quartet is remarkable. The combination of clarinet and piano trio is mostly known through Messiaen’s Quatuor pour la fin du temps, which, however, was only composed about one year later than Krein´s Quartet and premiered in 1941.

The Quartet consists of three movements with a total duration of circa 19 minutes:
1.    Moderato
2.    Andantino
3.    Allegretto

Video ex.4.4.1: Interventions (Krein, Quartet, mvt. 1, mm. 43-49)


In the first movement, Moderato, the four instruments are introduced in various combinations: as a duo with clarinet and cello, as a trio with clarinet, violin and cello, or as piano trio without clarinet. One peculiar effect, which re-appears frequently, is the use of unison. Krein composed entire melodic passages doubled in the strings and clarinet, which adds a special tone colour. In the quartet appear idioms from traditional Jewish music, such as dance-like rhythms, oriental scales, ornamentations, and an exposed emotional content. Krein’s harmonization, however, is fundamentally different from traditional music and bears features from French Impressionism. The manner of the clarinet playing fast, decorative passages within the main melody brings to mind the style of the French clarinet school (Video ex.4.5.1: Interventions). Together with the use of the oriental scales, Krein created a very individual musical language in his Quartet. (Video ex.4.5.2: Oriental scale).


Video ex.4.4.2: Oriental scale (Krein, Quartet, mvt. 1, mm. 100-110)


In the second movement, Andantino, the clarinet presents a simple melody with an uncomplicated transparent piano accompaniment (Video ex.4.5.3: Simple melody). This movement contains various elements from traditional Jewish music, yet individually modified by Krein: the motoric accompaniment of repeated fifths in the piano’s left hand, and the rhythmic structure of the melody with the upbeat and the 2/4 meter. The clarinet melody line reminds one of a traditional dance melody; the altered minor mode is also very recognizable. This melodic material evolves throughout the movement into a complex texture with four coequal musical voices. 

Video ex.4.4.3: Simple melody (Krein, Quartet, mvt. 2, mm.1-23)


The last movement, Allegretto, combines themes from the previous movements along with introducing new thematic material. The clarinet and strings interact as in a dialogue: the clarinet presents a cheerful melody and the strings repeat and conclude the melody in unisono (Video ex.4.5.4: Unisono answering). The frequently changing meters add playfulness to the archetypal melodies. The movement develops through a number of refined variations into an energetic finale. 

In many ways, Krein's Quartet is an exceptional composition within the clarinet repertoire. On the surface, the light and playful appearance of this composition covers its deeper content, an underlying melancholy and tragic undertones. The balance within the four instruments is a special point of attention for the performers. The piano part has at some points the tendency to overwhelm the three other players. Some octave changes, transposing the clarinet to a higher register, could help to solve the balance problem, but the decision remains up to the performer whether to apply such changes to the original composition. Another main challenge of this composition is to outline the tempo concept of the composition. With the very frequent tempo changes, such as più moderato or più vivo, it is not always clear to which initial tempo the remarks concern. The highly individual musical language and the appealing musical content in this specific instrumentation make Krein's Quartet a worthy contribution to the clarinet repertoire, and deserves a new edition of sheet music, recordings and performances.

Video ex.4.4.4: Unisono answering (Krein, Quartet, mvt.3, mm. 1-38)



Anne Elisabeth Piirainen, clarinet 

Kirill Kozlovski, piano  

Lea Tuuri, violin

Pinja Laine, cello

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5th doctoral concert "Beyond Borders" 

31.05.2018 Helsinki Music Centre