Posted in Woodwind Repertoire

Clarinet pieces

This is a list of clarinet pieces I’ve listened to, including some of my thoughts on each composition. While I focused on the unaccompanied and accompanied solo works, I also included interesting ensemble and orchestral compositions when these contain interesting clarinet sections.

Unaccompanied Solo Clarinet

Bela Kovacs – Hommages (1994)

This is a set of etudes dedicated to and written in style of nine composers: Bach, Paganini, Weber, Debussy, De Falla, Strauss, Bartok, Kodaly and Khatchaturian.

I was really amazed by these pieces. Firstly, I think the series proves how with ‘sufficient knowledge of styles, coupled with a sense of humor and a certain amount of fantasy’ (Kovacs, 1994) incredible music can be composed. This is something that I hope to achieve one day with my own pieces, and hence was very inspired by. Besides being a great introduction to different composers and styles, I was also pleasantly surprised by how the clarinet was made to sound like other instruments, having a kind of treatment that is specific for the instruments it imitates. Being a violinist, I first noticed this in Hommage a Paganini. The moderato section in 6/8 seems as if the clarinet is playing the spiccato or other jumping bows that go from G to E string, with even the chord crochet notes that sound as if played across the strings, which is idiomatic for violin. In the allegro molto section in 2/4, it is contrasted with the clarinet that sounds as if it is playing the rapid notes on long bows, with even some coloring changes that make it sound as if some sections are played on the darker, lower strings, while other on brighter, higher strings. Playing all these things that are idiomatic for violin, to me the clarinet almost sounded completely like a violin.

In a similar way, as a guitar player, I noticed that in Hommage a M. de Falla, the clarinet imitates the Spanish guitar. Not only do the staccato notes allude to the dry quality of the guitar sound, but throughout the piece, in the 6/8 rhythmic motifs with triplets, it seems like the clarinet is strumming chords in the finger picking arpeggiated style. In several instances, when the 6/8 switches to 5/8, the fast sixteenth notes are played completely, as if with the finger picking technique between two strings – again something idiomatic for the guitar.

There are even instances where clarinet seems to be giving the orchestral feeling in Hommage a Weber, while in Hommage a Bach for example, it’s as if there is contrapuntal texture and treatment of the melody, despite there being only clarinet.

This technical possibility of an instrument to imitate other instruments and even have the contrapuntal and orchestral feeling, which was showcased masterfully here, is also something that I would like to look at further and explore in my own music. Finally, the form is also quite interesting. A lot of the pieces are quite improvisational, but there are elements of the ternary ABA, sonata allegro and there is also theme and variation. I also didn’t listen to a lot of pieces by Kodaly and Khatschaturian, so this series definitely pointed out an area where I should do more listening. In general, I could see myself composing something like this.

Gordon Jacob – Five Pieces for Solo Clarinet ()

John Mayer – Raga Music

Sutermeister – Capriccio

Accompanied Solo Clarinet

Debussy – Premiere Rhapsodie for Clarinet

Poulenc – Sonata

Muczynski Time – Pieces

Lindberg – Clarinet Concerto

Hindemith – Sonata

Chamber/Ensemble music with Clarinet

Shoenberg – Pierrot Lunaire (1912)

This is a melodrama featuring a narrator that delivers the poems in the Sprechstimme manner, and an ensemble of flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano. Interestingly, this combination of instruments was later named after this composition – pierrot ensemble. I think this peculiar type of ensemble may be amusing to explore in my future compositions.

The piece is based on the Pierrot character from the Italian theatrical form Commedia dell’arte, who was a big inspiration for the 19th Century Romantics and 20th Century Modernists. In the piece, the flute player also alternates the flute with the piccolo, violinist with violin and viola, while the clarinet player alternates the clarinet with bass clarinet. While I enjoyed the polyphonic and counterpoint textures, it is because of the bass clarinet that I included this piece here. While reading about bass clarinet, I found out that it is mostly used to portray darkness and bleakness in different operas. (Everall, 2016: 10) And so, following this tradition, the bass clarinet doesn’t appear when Pierrot is singing about love, religion and sex in the first section, but only emerges when he speaks about violence, crime and blasphemy – especially in Night, Red Mass and Beheading. To me, the bass clarinet really made these the most compelling parts of the piece. There are interesting instances of the triple-tonguing and other curious sonorities from the instrument. Here is an astonishing, full performance I found:

The atonality here though is a bit too much for me, but I think its use is worth looking into. I think it could be efficiently utilized as a device that portrays the darkness and violence I mentioned above, just like the bass clarinet. Although not really a piece of music and narration, Shoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire pointed me towards the compositions of this style, such as Peter and the Wolf, Fisherman’s Tale and The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. And so, after some time, I decided to use this genre of narration and music for my Assignment 2 piece. As such, even though Pierrot Lunaire isn’t really in a style I would personally write, there are things to consider and learn from.

Igor Stravinsky – Rite of Spring (1913)

Orchestral Music with Clarinet

Richard Strauss – Salome (1905)

It’s interesting that the piece opens with the ascending clarinet scale. This establishes the mood of a evening in Jerusalem, a snake slithering across the ground to strike. Strauss musical heir to Richard Wagner, operas built on leitmotifs, to represent characters or even inanimate things.




Everall, P. (2016) A Digital Resource for Navigating Extended Techniques on Bass Clarinet. [PhD] Edith Cowan University. At:

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