for Clarinet, Cello and Piano (1989/90)




Vladimir Tarnopolsky (Владимир Олегович Тарнопольский; b.1955, Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine) studied at the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory with Edison Denisov and Nikolai Sidelnikov and became professor of composition at the same institution. Thanks to his efforts, in the Moscow Conservatory the Centre for Contemporary Music was founded in 1993 and the Studio for New Music Ensemble, led by Tarnopolsky and Kasparov, has since been performing and promoting contemporary compositions. 

Tarnopolsky composed the trio Echoes of the Passing Day – Fantasy on Joyce’s Ulysses (Отзвуки прошедшего дня) for clarinet (in B-flat), cello and piano in 1989/90. In this trio, Tarnopolsky challenges the borders of conventional ways of playing the instrument. Clarinet, cello and piano create a variety of sounds, from toneless key noise, over the sound of air, to all kind of “deformed” ways of sound production. Nevertheless, the composition is full of allusions and references to the past. The most obvious is the quotation of Beethoven’s Für Elise, here used as a wink to cellist Elizabeth Wilson, to whom the work is dedicated. Her name is also processed in using a fragment of the American popular song Elizabeth. References to the past even include historical oppositions between Germany and Russia. By musical means close to instrumental theatre, a marching scene evokes the picture of soldiers during the Second World War, and an imaginary Morse signal announces a state of distress.  The first performance of Echoes of the Passing Day was in Great Britain in 1990.  Echoes of the Passing Day is a one-movement work with a duration of approximately 19 minutes.

Video ex.8.2.1: Air (Tarnopolsky, Echoes, systs.6-8)


Echoes of the Passing Day challenges the three performers to go beyond the usual sound production. For the clarinetist, the topic of breath has a central role. Throughout the composition, various air sounds are produced: into the whole instrument, into the clarinet without mouthpiece, and while playing nearly inaudible notes (Video ex.8.2.1: Air).  A special element in the composition is the use of speech. The first spoken moment is when the performers imitate marching soldiers, as a reference to the history of World War II. Along with key noise in the marching tempo for the clarinetist, clapping the bow on the instrument body for the cellist and making sounds with the fingernails on the keyboard for the pianist, all three performers whisper in German “Rechts - Links” (“Right - Left”). Tarnopolsky alienates this marching by setting it in a 3 / 4 measure (Video ex. 8.2.2: Rechts-Links).  A 3 / 4 measure naturally cannot work for a march, nor does it feel natural to the performer to say Rechts-Links in an uneven measure. Even the clarinetist´s hand movement gets disturbed: clapping alternately with the left and right hand on the keys, the spoken word Rechts does not match with the hand in question anymore after the third pause beat.


Video ex. 8.2.2: Rechts, Links (Tarnopolsky, Echoes, systs. 52-53)


The middle section of the composition evolves around the first bars of Beethoven´s Für Elise, but again in a completely estranged manner. The first half-tone step is repeated and varied rhythmically and in tone pitch. This half-tone movement wanders around between the performers, occasionally meeting, sometimes intentionally giving through to the next player. It turns out to be a nearly comical moment, when the piano finally – after a seemingly endless torturing path – resolves the halftone movement into the recognizable quotation of Beethoven (Video ex.8.2.3: Eliza).


Video ex.8.2.3: Eliza (Tarnopolsky, Echoes, systs.67-69) 


Another passage with the use of speech, this time in Russian, is the Question “Chto delat?” (“What is to be done?”). First whispering, then shouting this question, the performers seem to be looking for a new direction within complete chaos (Video ex.8.2.4: Undetermined). This rhetorical question also awakens historical associations, from Nikolay Chernyshevsky to Vladimir Lenin. This question Chto delat? was highly relevant in the year of composition 1989/90, when old Soviet structures where decaying and it was still unclear where Perestroika was leading the country. 


Video ex.8.2.4: Shto delat´? (Tarnopolsky, Echoes, systs.86-87)


Towards the end of the composition, the performance turns increasingly into a surrealistic scene: the pianist plays on the closed piano lid, the cellist on the backside of the instrument, and the clarinetist plays without a mouthpiece. For the last time, the performers speak, softly whispering fragments of an erotic text (Video ex. 8.2.5: Erotic text). The quoted text at the end of the composition is the last line of James Joyce’s novel Ulysses: “and first I put my arms around him… yes… and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts… all perfume… yes… and his heart was going like mad… and yes… I said yes… I will… Yes…”.

It was not common in the former Soviet Union, even in the last years of existence, to use a text with erotic annotations in a concert as it could have been received as a provocation. Tarnopolsky approaches Joyce’s Stream of Consciousness through long, almost meditative, free and improvisatory passages (Tsenova 2003, 221). The highly active contact and interaction between the performers is an essential element in this trio. It is challenging and inspiring to me as a clarinetist to explore the borders of audibility and to cross the lines of traditional performing conventions in this piece. 

The score of the trio is unpublished. I was fortunate to receive the manuscript of the work from the composer himself. Most annotations are in Russian only, and the readability of the score is poor. I have been discussing this work with Tarnopolsky, and I am grateful for his help to clear up the questionable places. The lack of publication of this trio is exemplary for the problematic situation of many clarinet works from this area: numerous highly worthwhile compositions remain unknown and are not performed simply due to the absence of good-quality sheet music. The trio Echoes of the Passing Day marks a turning point within the clarinet repertoire of the former Soviet Union. Tarnopolsky’s radical avant-garde has opened up a new direction for the coming generation of post-Soviet composers.

Video ex.8.2.5: Erotic text (Tarnopolsky, Echoes, systs.120-122)



Anne Elisabeth Piirainen, clarinet 

Pinja Laine, cello

Kirill Kozlovski, piano

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4th doctoral concert "Echoes of the Past"

03.10.2017, Helsinki Music Centre