for Clarinet and Piano (1990)




Katia Tchemberdji (Chemberdzhi; Екатерина Владимировна Чемберджи; b. 1960, Moscow) studied piano and composition at the Moscow Conservatory with Nikolay Korndorf and Yury Kholopov. As a special source of influence Tchemberdji mentions her grandmother, composer Zara Levina, rather than her conservatory colleagues Edison Denisov and Alfred Schnittke, or her grandfather, composer Nikolay Chemberdzhi.[1] Tchemberdji composed the Sonata for clarinet (in b-flat) and piano in 1990, the year of her emigration to Germany. Charles Neidich and Vasily Lobanov premiered the Sonata in the same year at the Kuhmo Chamber Music Festival in Finland. Tchemberdji composed various chamber music works with the clarinet in this period, such as the Heidelberg-Trio (clarinet, violin, piano; 1991) and Preludes (cl, vn, vla, vc; 1992). In 2003, Ma’or (clarinet solo) was the commissioned obligatory work at the ARD clarinet competition. In 2005, the sheet music of the Sonata for clarinet and piano was published (Tchemberdji 2005).

Tchemberdji applies in the Sonata for clarinet and piano the full dynamic and register range of the clarinet, while the piano part is kept rather transparent. The Sonata stands out in an intense and intimate sense for beauty of expression. The Sonata consists of three movements with a total duration of approximately 18 minutes: 

1. Quarter note = 80 

2. Presto, quarter note = 126 

3. Half note = 50 

The first movement opens with a scream-like clarinet motive on the background of a static piano cluster. The entire movement spins around this “scream”-motive. In the beginning the clarinet playing is rough: the register is extremely high with the large seventh interval jump up to d4 (sounding c4), played in fortissimo dynamics (Video ex. 9.3.1: Scream).

[1] For more information on the composer, see www.tchemberdji.com

Video ex.9.3.1: Scream (Tchemberdji, Sonata, mvt.1, mm. 1-4) 


As if attempting over and over again, the clarinet repeats and varies the “scream” until it finally develops into a longer, high and loud clarinet passage. The piano part remains disengaged, interfering with the clarinet only with descending, long clusters. The first signs of interaction between the two performers appear in the section meno mosso, quarter note = 70 (mm. 28ff.). The clarinet, now using very soft dynamics, plays the beginning of the scream, and the piano completes the line (Video example 9.3.2: Completion). The idea arises that the clarinet voice is screaming for attention, but not getting any response. The initial aggressive tone turns into feelings of longing and desperation. Until the end of the movement, the piano part remains distant and cautious, as if not really present.

Video ex.9.3.2: Completion (Tchemberdji, Sonata, mvt.1, mm. 28-31)


The second movement, Presto, opens with a two-voiced duet between the clarinet and the piano. The melody spins constantly around halftone movements, giving a playful, almost naïve impression. The texture becomes gradually denser, developing into complex, polyrhythmic passages, followed by a section with random repetition of a specific series of notes in the piano. However, the atmosphere always turns back to the simplicity of the opening. It evokes the image of children playing a chasing game, with small touches and yet always escaping from each other again (Video ex.9.3.3: Chase).


Video ex.12.3.3: Chase (Tchemberdji, Sonata, mvt.2, mm. 1-9)


The third movement explores temporal independence: the clarinet and piano play their own voices autonomously, yet meeting on certain points, seemingly by coincidence. In this movement bar lines are left behind and the notation switches to systems, where the performers can play freely, yet following each other in an improvisatory section. The soundscape is transparent and crystal-like: the piano plays pizzicato on open strings, which are muted on different places. The clarinet “floats” with long notes on top of the piano sounds (Video ex.9.3.4: Crystal). At the end of the movement, the clarinet ceases playing sounding notes and turns to producing air sounds. The piano plugs one single string in a repeated rhythm, producing a soft, knocking sound, like a fading heartbeat.


Video ex.12.3.4: Crystal (Tchemberdji, Sonata, mvt.3, systs.2-3)



Anne Elisabeth Piirainen, clarinet

Kirill Kozlovski, piano

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3rd doctoral concert "Facets of Expression" 

27.09.2016, Helsinki Music Centre