Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra

Dan Welcher

Performing Ensemble: Clarinet with Orchestra
Publisher: Elkan-Vogel, Inc.
Print Status: Rental

Quick Overview

When clarinetist Bil Jackson first asked me to write a concerto for clarinet and orchestra in 1984, I had just completed my Quintet for Clarinet and Strings on commission from Joaquin Valdepenas. That work, lasting thirty minutes and using (or so I thought at the time) just about every idea I had for solo clarinet, had occupied me for the better part of a year. I couldn?t imagine that I had anything further to say with this instrument, and I said so. Bil wouldn?t be dissuaded, though, and after another four years he tried again. I had heard him play the Quintet by this time, too, and those performances coupled with my longtime admiration for him as a jazz player and a symphony player led me to change my mind.

The result is a work that, while not ?jazz concerto? (that kind of crossover term has always bothered me ? it degrades both the classical and jazz worlds, without meaning to), takes advantage of the rather checkered history of the clarinet. Cast in two lengthy movements and scored for a rather small orchestra, it is a sort of Uptown Big Brother to my 1974 Flute Concerto (which is also cast in two movements for a small orchestra, but which remains ?legit? throughout). The first movement, mostly serious in nature, is a Fantasia ? beginning with odd-metered fanfares and flourishes, it gradually gives way to an elegiac theme in the high violins, with the solo clarinet filling in the pauses with the plunging arpeggios at which the instrument excels. A climax is reached with this theme, and the music proceeds into a rather detached 9/8 meter, marked ?dancing.? Little by little, the specter of Ragtime peeks around the corner, but never fully appears. The elegy-theme gradually emerges from the dance music, and the orchestra swells back into prominence. The fanfares from the opening re-appear, but in an ongoing 2/4 meter this time. The fanfare becomes a repetitive little machine, over which the clarinet is allowed to sing two echo-phrases of the elegy, before a quick and resolute cadence ends the movement quietly.

The second movement, entitled ?Blues and Toccata? (on the name ?Benny Goodman?) is just what it says it is. The first half of the movement is a slow 5/4 song, with a repeated bass line as an ostinato. A solo trumpet joins the clarinet for some sweet, sad polyphony, and the mood is broken only slightly in a central section of a lighter interplay with flute and woodwinds. [The name ?Benny Goodman?, by the way, happens to form a chord that is quite blue in nature: B-flat, E, G, D, and A; and by adding a parallel group of five notes a sixth away a quite beautiful scale is constructed. The entire movement comes from these materials.] The ?Toccata? is another ground-bass ostinato, this time a jaunty and metrically shifty pattern which is repeated ten times. In the middle of the movement, however, jazz gives way momentarily to a rather polite Rock n? Roll episode, functioning as (dare I say it?) a ?trio? in the middle of the movement. By the end, the orchestra has been pared down to the components of the jazz quartet: clarinet, vibraphone, bass, and drums. A parody of the ?call and response? chorus from the forties brings the Concerto to an amusing and rousing finish.

The Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra was sketched at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire in May and June of 1988, and completed and orchestrated during the winter of 1989. The full score was completed in May, 1989, in Austin Texas. It was first performed by Bil Jackson with the Honolulu Symphony under Donald Johanos in October of 1989.

Available on Rental

Scores & Parts

Concerto - Solo Part with Piano Reduction
Concerto - Solo Part

Additional Information

Composition Date 1989
Duration 19:00
Orchestration Solo Cl.; 3(Picc.) 1 1 1 - 2 2 1 0; 5Perc. Pno. Hp. Str.
Premiere Bil Jackson, Clarinet, Honolulu Symphony, conducted by Donald Johanos, Honolulu, Hawaii.