Clarinet recital videos: Ibert


Trois Pièces Brèves by Jacques Ibert

Jacques Ibert (1890-1962) was a French composer who wrote in a modern, yet Romantic style. Romanticism appeals to wider audiences because of its tangible, often extreme emotions, lyricism, and memorable melodies. It is often programmic, meaning that it characterizes a specific story. As Allan McMurray (now retired from CU-Boulder after 35 years as Director of Bands) would say, “All music is doing one of two things. It’s either singing or it’s dancing.” Trois Pièces Brèves (Three Short Pieces) for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and horn by Jacques Ibert has examples of both.

Movement one is a fun, carefree country dance. While there is an oboe solo in the middle that seems to call into question the carefree atmosphere, the dance resumes and works itself into a frenzy by the end of the movement. Though the form is not technically the same, the melody of this dance sounds like an Irish Gigue to which Ibert would have had some exposure. A gigue is characterized by a strong backbeat which can inspire toe-tapping, even knee-slapping. Please keep the knee-slapping to a dull roar during the performance.

Movement two is a ballad (love song) featuring the flute and clarinet. It is a conversation between the two, sometimes in close harmony, sometimes fairly independent of one another. It contains some rubato which is defined as the pushing forward and pulling back of tempo (speed), where the performer is allowed to be more expressive and free than in other music. It is the performer’s objective to imitate the human voice in these passages. The horn player in this movement is made to count dozens of measures of rest and then play one long, low, muted note. Brass players often find themselves doing this in orchestral music, but it is rare to rest that long in a woodwind quintet setting.

Movement three opens tentatively with solos in horn and bassoon that are reminiscent of George Gershwin’s An American in Paris. The two dances in this movement are a quick dance in 4 and a waltz in 3. The exuberant clarinet and flute solos pass to oboe who again represents the more serious voice. In general, this movement could be characterized as “episodic” meaning that it passes from one event to the next quickly, with little transitional material, similar to a TV series episode.


Clarinet recital videos: Aubin


The title of this piece, Le Calme de la Mer, is French for “The Calm of the Sea.” It is a work of French Impressionism, though its composer, Tony Aubin (1907-1981) lived and composed much later than other Impressionist composers. This piece was published in 1965 while most impressionist works were published before 1920. Aubin was influenced by Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, and Paul Dukas, who was one of Aubin’s teachers.

aa_22To the right is a photograph of Tony Aubin coaching a trio with the same instrumentation as this piece: flute, clarinet, and piano. This is a rare instrumentation because all of the instruments sound in a generally higher pitch than other groups who have low-sounding instruments as well as high. A trio with just three performers has the advantage of being small enough for each instrument to get a chance to perform the melody, accompany it, and play in close harmony.


Clarinet recital videos: Hommage a M. De Falla

manuel-de-fallaHommage à M. De Falla is an exciting, visceral piece that was composed in the style of a traditional Spanish dance known as flamenco. Manuel De Falla (1876-1946) was arguably the most famous composer in Spanish history and lived in Madrid, Paris, and finally Argentina after the Spanish civil war in 1939. This work is especially well-written for unaccompanied clarinet because Kovács made the clarinet sound like several different instruments, often at the same time. For example, in the beginning, the clarinet sounds like trumpets playing a fanfare or horns at the start of a hunt. During the fast section, the clarinet sounds much like Spanish guitar strumming major and minor chords and finger picking between two strings.

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Clarinet recital videos: Hommage a C. Debussy

An hommage is a piece of music written to pay tribute to something or someone. In this case, the tribute is being paid by Hungarian clarinet professor Béla Kovács to French composer Claude Debussy. Béla Kovács (b. 1937) is Professor of Clarinet at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music and performs in orchestras in Budapest, Hungary. Here is what Professor Kovacs had to say about these pieces:

My pedagogical activities inspired me to compose the Hommages. The pieces were Bela-Kovacs intended to be etudes or studies which students may use as supplementary material to the usual dry and mechanical – although indispensable – exercises. They contain various challenges. If performed with impressive dexterity, proper tone production and sufficient knowledge of styles, coupled with a sense of humor and a certain amount of fantasy, they could, hopefully, find success even on the concert stage. I recommend the Hommages to all my former, present, and future students, and also to those, who, recognizing their value, may wish to devote more concentrated attention to them.

Béla Kovács is an excellent replicator of various composers’ styles, such as that of Claude Debussy (1862-1918). The bulk of Debussy’s works fall under the category of French Impressionism, which was a movement in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century that departed from the more obvious, overt style of Romanticism. Impressionist music is much like impressionist art: it depicts the figurative meaning of a person, object, or scene rather than the literal portrait. The emotions are more subtle and covert. Also, the melodies are more difficult to identify because they weave together an atmosphere rather than a song or dance. Kovács directly quotes at least two of Debussy’s works in this piece for unaccompanied clarinet including his Premiere Rhapsody and Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, which is perhaps Debussy’s most famous work.

Clarinet recital videos: Rossini

If you’ve been wondering why I haven’t written in a couple months, here’s why! I gave a solo clarinet recital and played introduction videos to each piece I performed. I’ll explain more about my vision behind this kind of performance later. Enjoy!


Here are the program notes I wrote for this piece:

Introduction, Theme & Variations by Gioachino Rossini 

Composer_Rossini_G_1865_by_CarjatHave you heard the theme from the 1960s television series Bonanza? What about the famous tenor, Pavarotti, singing “Figaro, Figaro, Figaro?” Those famous tunes come from Gioachino Rossini’s (1792- 1868) operas, William Tell and The Barber of Seville. When most people think of Italian Classical music, they think of Rossini. His style is graceful yet dramatic, comical yet powerful. It is generally believed that Rossini composed Introduction, Theme & Variations as a student project at the Bologna Conservatory of Music when he was very young. Indeed, theme and variations is a great form to practice for composers because it helps them think creatively about a melody and how it can morph to take on different shapes, characters and emotions. In this piece you will hear a broad, sweet-sounding introduction, a playful theme, five variations on the original theme that become more and more exciting, showing off the full range and velocity of the clarinet, including a slow, semi-serious variation in a minor key, and a dramatic cadenza.


How does the saying go? “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.

What about those who can’t teach? I guess they write.

Why I am starting this blog. I love music. I cant stop thinking about music throughout the day. Especially music for large ensembles: orchestras, bands, and choirs. The genres include baroque, classical, romantic, modern, minimalist, swing, bebop, hard bop, cool jazz, funk, contemporary jazz, and some rock music. If it is artful.

In another post I’d like to share what criteria I look for in music in order to consider it good music. I recognize, of course, that people have different preferences in music and that all are valid. There is a whole research field out there on musical preference and why people like music. I want to look more into that.

Another reason. I have two music degrees and I work for Office Depot. No one I know thinks this is right, including myself. Or, if they think it is right, they think it is only for now, and that God is working in me and developing my identity in Him. My testimony includes how, at least at an unconscious level, I staked my worth in my achievement in music. I decided to pursue music because if I couldn’t get my peers in school to like me, at least they would respect me and my talent. When I learned that I would neither perform nor teach, I was devastated. I will be sure to write about my musical experiences, including how they came to a screeching halt, in a future post.

While music is not the thing that determines my worth, it is still a large part of me. I’ve tried to suppress it over the last three years because I cared too much about it. But I can’t. Time for some cliches: I can’t keep it inside! I can’t hide it in a bushel basket! This little light of mine, I’ve gotta let it shine! Carpe Diem! Seize the day! You only have one life to live, so live it to the fullest! There is no time like the present!

In other words, I feel compelled to share my love of music. I want to express what it means to me personally as well as the emotional, psychological, spiritual, educational, and social value it possesses. I want to advocate for music, especially the symphony orchestra and the programs that make them possible. I want to break down the barriers that people have to experiencing music the way I and many others have. As an educator, my philosophy is to develop in students a life-long participation and appreciation of music. While I am not confident school programs do this with the distractions of contests, chair placements, and football games, I do want to support these programs. I want to see schools take a holistic approach, making music a relevant part of all areas of education, not just performing arts. English literature, history, religion, philosophy, science, and even math are not separate subjects from music. Perhaps one day my writing could support my philosophy of education in school programs.

For now, the goal is to write about music and see if I can sustain it over time. I need to find out if this is a form of musical expression that suits me. I need to see if I can find my writer’s voice and develop my own style. I need to know if what I have to contribute is worthwhile. Actually, I’m not sure if I care about that right now. I want to write about it even if no one cares.

My audience may include my wife, my mother, father, sister, brothers-in-law, and closest friends. If none of you read this, that’s ok. I’m happy to hear your feedback, but this will be an experimental space. I may ramble on and on. I may go off on bunny trails, my thoughts may be incoherent, and things may be poorly organized. I am a beginner, after all.

Subjects will include what I have discussed above, but mainly I want to write about my favorite pieces of music. Most of these will be music written for orchestra, choir, and band. Most of them will be in the romantic era of Western Music, though I have some modern works and tunes by jazz and rock artists I’d like to discuss as well.

In truth, if I can prove that I can sustain a lifestyle of writing, I’d like to be a music critic. Perhaps a musicologist. While I haven’t researched exactly what those things are, I think a music critic is someone who writes critically about music. Ok, probably more explanation is needed than that. In my understanding, music critics write reviews about concerts, ensembles, new works. They also write biographies or blog about the latest trends in music. They do research, they judge contests, and they probably do their fair share of teaching. They are historians, but also futurists. They dream of how music can play a role in our changing society and give educators ideas on the function of music.

Maybe Musicologist is the correct term, though I don’t like the negative connotation associated with that title. Musicologists seem like dry, boring, bookworms who are only interested in their own research and high-minded academics. They seem to find everything that is wrong with music and reduce it into something less than valuable. In short, I don’t enjoy the way they express themselves. Perhaps they feel a burden to prove themselves to “those who know” about music. I feel the opposite burden: I must prove myself to “those who don’t know.” Only if I want to get paid, anyway!

I have an idea of how I can get started on this exploration of musical writing, but it will have to wait until the next post.

Thanks for reading.