Olga Rayeva



for Clarinet and Theremin (1990)




Olga Rayeva (Ольга Семеновна Раева, b. 1971, Moscow) graduated from the Moscow Conservatory as a student of Edison Denisov, Vladimir Tarnopolsky and Nikolay Korndorf. Rayeva composed Lady-Bird (Женщина-птица) for clarinet (in B-flat) and theremin in 1990, shortly before emigrating to Germany.[1] Lady-Bird has been premiered and performed several times in 1990 in Moscow with great audience success. Nevertheless, the work has not been performed since then and is not published. Later compositions by Rayeva include the trios for clarinet, cello, piano Largo (1994), Ostinato... – con moto... (1995) and Intermezzo (Жрать!), as well as Relief in den Klarinettenfarbtönen (clarinet solo), works for bass clarinet and chamber music with clarinet in various instrumentations. [2]

Lady-Bird is an exceptional composition within the clarinet repertoire due to the rare instrumentation of clarinet and theremin. [3] The sound possibilities of this electronic instrument include producing seamless pitch and resembling the human voice by electronic means. The clarinet and theremin create in Lady-Bird an obscure sound landscape, calm and atmospheric. The clarinet approaches the sounds of the theremin through multiphonics, glissandi and key noise effects. Both performers recall bird sounds in this work. The bird here can symbolize freedom, moving around in unlimited space, without borders, not bound to the ground or to gravity, much like the theremin’s sound world. 

The title of the work, Lady-Bird (Женщина-птица), evokes various associations: First, the connotation of ancient Slavonic mythology, in which cross-figures of animals and humans occur. The colourful Lady-Bird symbolizes in mythology the beauty of the voice, but also female power and seduction, often on the border between good and evil. These mythological figures appear in Russian fairytales, literature and music. One better-known figure is the Firebird (Жар-птица), which appears for example in Igor Stravinsky´s famous ballet with the same title. The second association relates to the birds and their singing, imitated by musical means. Finally, Rayeva herself represents the rather unusual role of female composer in the male-dominated composers´ profession in the former Soviet Union (as nearly all Soviet clarinetists were male at that time).

[1] The Russian title Женщина-птица could also be translated as Woman-Bird or Female Bird.

[2] More information on the composer and her work: www.olgarayeva.com

[3] The theremin (Thermenvox) was invented by Lev Termen in the 1920s in Russia. The instrument has been used in both classical and film music.

 Video ex.8.4.1: 12-tone row (Rayeva, Lady-Bird, syst. 1)


Lady-Bird is a composition in one movement, Misterioso, with a duration of approximately 6 minutes. The work uses dodecaphonic composition techniques. The clarinet solo introduces a 12-tone row in the low register, playing softly and enigmatically (Video ex.8.4.1: 12-tone row). The structure of Lady-Bird is free, although three sections can be outlined. First, the Introduction is played by the clarinet alone, followed by the entrance of the theremin solo. In the middle section, from system 4 on, clarinet and theremin play together in a vividly developing passage. The final section (system 7ff.) calms down towards the end of the piece. The metrum is free, and there are no bar lines in the composition. The notation of the clarinet part is traditional, whereas the theremin part also uses graphic notation.

The theremin plays upon its entrance a long-lined, tonal melody. In the middle section, the theremin switches from melodic playing to producing atmospheric sounds, reminding one of the singing of birds. The clarinet part alludes to bird sounds as well due to small, repeated rhythmic figures (Video ex.8.4.2: Birds). The idea of birds, concerning the clarinet repertoire, brings to mind Messiaen´s Abîme des Oiseaux from the Quatuor pour la Fin du Temps. In a metaphorical sense, the theremin is an excellent choice for representing birds. For the birds as a symbol for freedom not bound to gravity; and for the theremin, producing sounds without any physical contact between performer and instrument, not bound to a fixed pitch. 

Video ex.8.4.2: Birds (Rayeva, Lady-Bird, syst. 5)


For the clarinetist, ensemble playing with the theremin sets unusual challenges. A certain pitch instability is inherent to the unspecific sound production of the theremin. Both performers have to react spontaneously on each other because the interaction is less predictable and depends on a constant, active dialogue. The clarinet is used idiomatically, including the techniques of glissando, tremolo, multiphonics and toneless key noise. The clarinet multiphonics blend with the sound of theremin especially well, as here both instruments meet in inherent instability and less specific intonation (Video ex.11.4.3: Floating). 

Lady-Bird has never been published, but it would be an interesting addition to the clarinet repertoire to make this composition available for performers, possibly with added explanations and performance instructions.

Video ex.8.4.3: Floating (Rayeva, Lady-Bird, syst. 7)



Anne Elisabeth Piirainen, clarinet 

Max Savikangas, theremin  

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5th doctoral concert "Beyond Borders" 

31.05.2018 Helsinki Music Centre