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.
To 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.
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
Have 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.
Today’s clip goes beyond elation or joy. The most fitting word is
euphoria |yo͞oˈfôrēə| – noun – a feeling or state of intense excitement and happiness
The exuberance in Overture from Ruslan and Lyudmila by Mikhail Glinka (1804-1857) is very contagious. It is hard for me to listen to this music and think anything but positive thoughts. This piece is all about seizing the day, the thrill of the chase, zeal for life, and gusto. Listening to this piece makes me feel like I could do anything. It reminds me of how much life is an adventure just waiting to happen.
A not-so-euphoric Glinka
It is hard to imagine the man from this portrait writing such euphoric music, but of course his music displays a wide variety of emotions. Glinka is often referred to as the “Russian father of Classical music.” He came before most of the major Russian composers you may have heard of like Borodin, Rimsky-Korsokov, Mussorgsky, Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich, and Stravinsky.
The Russian style of Classical music has always been one of great intensity, grandeur, and virtuosity. It is the opposite of subtle and can be over-stated. The Russian style is like the William Shatner of Classical music. It’s the greatest music you’ve ever heard but sometimes it’s a bit much.
Anyway, this overture is no exception. According to my Apple dictionary, an overture is simply “an introduction to something more substantial.” This definition is quite ironic considering overtures can be quite substantial themselves. Overture from Ruslan and Lyudmila begins with a bang with the whole orchestra playing at once: drums, strings, woodwinds and brass. This acts as a spring board to launch the string section high into the air with their sixteenth-note runs.
This happens a second time before sending the strings into a frenzy of notes reaching up into the highest parts of their range. Though they may sound incredibly virtuosic, these kinds of sixteenth-note runs can be quite easy to play. Classical musicians spend much of their time practicing scales, which is all these runs consist of. As long as the runs do not skip a note or two or are in a difficult key, the average professional Classical musician should have no problems with them. Here is a recording from one of my clarinet recitals playing the finale from Sonata for Clarinet by Camille Saint-Saens. Enjoy!