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Sonata for Solo Clarinet, Op. 32 (2010)

For Bb Clarinet


Joe Clark, clarinet

Duration: 15'

  1. I. Ominous
  2. II. Pastoral
  3. III. Festive

Program Notes:

The inspirations for this "Sonata for Solo Clarinet" are twofold: Alice Gallagher and Taylor Thompson.

First and foremost, in the summer of 2009, the clarinetist Alice Gallagher returned to her hometown of Townsend, MA and gave a solo clarinet recital at the Lawrence Library. I performed a movement of James Waterson's "Grand Quartet" on the recital and eagerly watched the rest of the program. One of the pieces was David Salvage's "Sonata for Solo Clarinet". Alice explained how she had asked her friend for a short etude and he returned with a full-fledged four movement sonata.

Fast-forward to the end of the next school year... My friend Taylor Thompson approached me and asked me to write her an etude to work on octave connections. The parallels overwhelmed me, and I was resolved to return to her with a "Sonata for Solo Clarinet".

The form of the work draws heavily from various sources. The overall three-part structure draws from Stravinsky's "Three Pieces", with a slow second movement in place of Stravinsky's treacherous second movement. The first movement remains entirely below the break (a la Stravinsky) and has an unmetered arch form, after Penderecki's "Prelude" (which Alice also performed on her recital). The second movement develops an idea I can hardly claim is original but that I have not often run across (and certainly hadn't at the time): Rather than retaining mode and changing tonics (e.g. C major to G major), why not retain tonic and change mode? F remains the tonic throughout, but the mode is constantly shifting. The third movement is based on a twelve-tone row derived from the name of a mutual friend, Justin Marple. The entire movement is structured symmetrically, with the exception of a brief three-bar coda.

When I first presented the piece to my teacher, Jason Bielik, he made two fair points - it's probably too long, and occupies an uncomfortable place between etude and concert piece. Nevertheless, I have chosen to keep it as is. It can certainly serve as an etude for octave connections and a not-too-scary introduction to a wide variety of extended techniques. I do believe it can also find life as a solo piece, with generating interest through the extended octave sections simply becoming one additional challenge.

The piece was completed on June 30, 2010. Although initially conceived for Bb clarinet, I don't object to its performance on any other clarinet!