6.1 Lokshin: Quintet - Clarinet Music from Russia and the Soviet Union 1917-1991
for Clarinet and String Quartet (1955)
Aleksandr Lokshin (Александр Лазаревич Локшин,1920, Biysk, Altai–1987, Moscow) was until 1948 a highly valued young composer in Soviet music circles. Lokshin studied composition with Nikolai Myaskovsky at the Moscow Conservatory. Shostakovich even called the young Lokshin a ‘genius’. But Lokshin’s life became overshadowed by accusations of treachery during the last years of Stalinism. There is no unequivocal evidence to back these accusations; nevertheless, Lokshin was never declared officially rehabilitated from these accusations. The son of the composer, Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Lokshin, has gathered evidence on Lokshin’s innocence (Lokshin 2004; Lokshin 2018). However, public opinion in the Soviet Union about Lokshin became so negative that his compositions were performed only rarely after 1950. However, some notable musicians, such as pianist Maria Yudina and conductor Rudolf Barshay were playing his music and supporting Lokshin even during these times. Most of the performances and recordings of Lokshin’s music took place in western countries. Lokshin led an isolated life but continued composing until his death in 1987: chamber music, vocal compositions and 11 symphonies.
Lokshin composed the Quintet for clarinet (in B-flat) and string quartet in 1955, after the death of Stalin, in a period of opening up and relative artistic freedom. The Clarinet Quintet was first performed in 1957 and recorded in 1960 by Ivan Mozgovenko and the Komitas-Quartet. The score of the Clarinet Quintet was published by the Soviet State Publishing in 1957 and later reprinted by Edition Le Chant du Monde. Unfortunately, separate playing parts are not available. Though the quintet is Lokshin’s only work for the clarinet, the clarinet plays a significant role in the symphonic output of Lokshin (Yoffe 2014, 307–345).
Lokshin’s contribution to the clarinet chamber music repertoire is a lyrical and deeply passionate work. It shows certain musical connections to the Clarinet Quintet of Brahms, why the work is sometime even called Quintet in memory of Brahms (Mozgovenko 2005, 388). The quintet consists of two movements to be performed attacca. The total duration of the quintet is approximately 24 minutes, with the second movement taking two thirds of the composition:
1. Andante sostenuto
2. Poco Allegretto, Tema con Variazioni
Video ex.6.1.1: Funeral March (Lokshin, Clarinet Quintet, mvt. 1, mm. 11-18)
The first movement, Andante sostenuto, represents a classical sonata form. The viola introduces the main theme accompanied by the cello in c minor. The theme bears characteristics of a funeral march. The violins join in one by one until the clarinet takes the lead (Video ex.9.1.1: Funeral March). This funeral theme reoccurs throughout the entire movement and comes back even in the second movement. Lokshin incorporates in a refined manner tempo changes which are not audibleinitially. For example, he includes a long section of slowing down, notated as a change of note values. Toward the end of the first movement, the clarinet and cello suspend the movement with a joint cadenza, developing an intense dialogue (Video ex.9.1.2: Cadenza).
Video ex.6.1.2: Cadenza (Lokshin, Clarinet Quintet, mvt. 1, mm. 111-121)
The second movement, Poco allegretto, is a theme with six Variations. Lokshin solved the transition to the second movement very elegantly: The clarinet stays alone in the last bar of the first movement with two fermata-notes. At the same time these notes form the upbeat to the next movement. The clarinet introduces the new, main theme Poco allegretto very softly, accompanied only by the cello, playing pizzicato (Video ex.6.1.3: Theme 2nd mvt.). Because the clarinet continues directly into the second movement, the impression of one piece as a whole is created. It takes a moment for the listener to realize that now a new part has started after the first movement has “died out”. Both movements are also interwoven thematically, as motives from the first part appear again later in the variations. The c-major theme combines a certain playfulness in character with a wide lyricism in the clarinet, recalling intonations of Mahler and Stravinsky.
Variation 1, Più animato, is played by the string quartet only and continues in a light tone. Variation 2, Tranquillo, also begins only with strings. After the entrance of the clarinet, all five parts evolve in equal musical positions. The performers take over motive parts from each other and pass them on again until the five instruments are reunited as one homogeneous entity. The clarinet quotes the motive from the ending of the first movement here exactly, just in another octave. Variation 3, Allegro, is the most vivid section of the entire work with fast triple-movements in all parts.
The fourth variation, Lento, creates a complete contrast. As if time is standing still, the clarinet announces a new era on a repeated low F. The strings join in with the theme as in variation 2, but much more slowly and with a melancholic undertone. The clarinet plays the same low note in this variation dozens of times; this gesture can awaken the association with a heartbeat, the pulse that underlies the activity in the strings and keeps them alive. The variation ends in a constant diminuendo, morendo, literally dying out; only the clarinet remains on the long note in a fermata. As in the transition to the second movement, the clarinet now plays, in the beginning of variation 5, con moto, the main theme first completely alone, then interwoven with the strings (Video ex.6.1.4: Variation V). In this variation, Lokshin passes by all elements from the previous variations in a concise form. If using the imagination that the end of variation four was the moment of dying, this following variation could be seen as a quick run-through of all the life that had been before, including elements of the first movement. The viola, which opened the entire composition, has the honor of commencing the last variation, molto sostenuto, with the theme as it occurs in variation 2, but much more slowly. The composition ends in a calm and peaceful c-major chord.
Video ex.6.1.3: Theme 2nd mvt. (Lokshin, Clarinet Quintet, mvt. 2, mm.139-157)
This quintet is not as easy to perform as it might first appear. For the clarinet, the technical level is not the biggest obstacle, but rather the sound quality, which should consistently be very smooth and even. Especially the lyrical legato passages, embracing unusual interval combinations, need to be refined thoroughly. The main challenge, however, is to make the quintet work well as a chamber music ensemble – five musicians, five equal voices finding one musical language together. The quintet is at moments composed in a very thick texture, which can easily sound overloaded if the performers do not have a clear vision on what to bring to the front and what to leave on the second level. Lokshin’s composition is sometimes like a small-size symphony, with many layers above and below. It is up to the performers to highlight the changes in texture and to keep clarity even in the most complicated passages. The performers need to agree on the approach of this work, to develop their musical concept together and to be able and willing to take changing roles within the development of the composition. Constant interaction among all five players is essential here. One main challenge is also to bring out the wide structure of the work, to keep the interest of the listeners during the variations, and to express a keen imagination throughout the performance. Lokshin’s clarinet quintet is an underestimated gem within the clarinet repertoire, which deserves wider attention and recognition.
Video ex.6.1.4: Variation V (Lokshin, Clarinet Quintet, mvt. 2, mm. 467-487)
Anne Elisabeth Piirainen, clarinet
Nonna Knuuttila, violin
Eeva Oksala, violin
Jussi Aalto, viola
Petja Kainulainen, cello
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1st doctoral concert "Abandoned Melodies"
15.05.2014, Helsinki Music Centre