for Clarinet Solo (1956)




Arthur Lourié (Наум Израилевич Лурья; 1892, Propoysk–1966, Princeton) – composer, music critic and writer – has been described as a colourful and extravagant person. Lourié studied composition with Glazunov at the St Petersburg Conservatory, and his experimental early works were influenced by the literary avant-garde circles of St Petersburg in the beginning of the 20th century. Lourié was active in the Russian Revolution and became head of the music commission in the newly-founded Soviet Union (Hakobian 2017, 22). He emigrated unexpectedly in 1922, after which his works, as a persona non grata, were not performed in the Soviet Union for decades. Lourié developed a close relationship to Igor Stravinsky since the 1920s, when both composers were living in France and Switzerland. This friendship is reflected in some mutual musical references between the two composers. After 1941 Lourié spent the rest of his life in the US. 

Lourié composed The Mime for clarinet solo (in B-flat) in 1956, and it was published in 1958 (Lourié 1958). The Mime is dedicated to Charlie Chaplin. The Mime is a one-movement composition with a duration of five to six minutes. It is a playful composition with quickly changing moods and nostalgic reminiscences of the past. The Mime shows certain connections to the Three Pieces for clarinet solo by Igor Stravinsky, especially to the second piece through the miniature form, allusions to Neoclassicism, and enhanced comical gestures. The structure of the work The Mime is a string of short motives representing very different characters.

As one possibility to approach the piece and prepare a performance, I suggest the use of an imaginary theatre setting. It is useful to subdivide The Mime into small sections, each of them representing a specific character, as if Chaplin was acting on stage or in a silent film. The fictional characters quickly follow one after another with constantly changing moods, creating a narrative dramaturgy in The Mime.

In the introductory passage (mm. 1–16), punctuated interval jumps in the clarinet part accentuate the impression of movement: the curtain opens, and the actor enters the scene with small, jumping steps. The actor is slightly insecure, doubting whether he is in the right place or not. The introduction is followed by a light-footed, elegant and somewhat dreamy Waltz. The dancing moves are interrupted by small stops, marked by commas and breaks, again giving the impression of some underlying doubt. (Video ex.9.1.1: Waltz).

Video ex.9.1.1: Waltz (Louriè, The Mime, mm. 17-29)


The dreamy atmosphere of the Waltz is interrupted abruptly, changing sentiments in an instant. The following segments portray in succession sentiments of joking, begging, questioning but without getting an answer, rhetoric declamation, and a jazzy passage. The dominant character throughout the entire work is playful, yet often with a nostalgic and bittersweet undertone (Video ex.9.1.2: Prankster).

The Mime is an enjoyable and entertaining small solo piece, which can easily fit into various concert programs or as an encore. Technically not too difficult, the composition challenges above all the imagination and expressivity of the clarinetist.

Video ex.9.1.2: Prankster (Louriè, The Mime, mm. 106 -118)



Anne Elisabeth Piirainen, clarinet

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3rd doctoral concert "Facets of Expression" 

27.09.2016, Helsinki Music Centre