(1993) Concerto for Bass Clarinet and Orchestra
Based on fragments of poems by Georg Trakl
Duration: ca 20'
Bass clarinet; 2(pic)2(ca)2(bcl)2(cbn)/3220/timp.perc/str
Commissioned by Victoria Soames Samek, with funds from the Arts Council of Great Britain and South West Arts
World Premiere: 13 July 1994,
Cheltenham International Festival, England
Victoria Soames Samek, Bass clarinet
City of London Sinfonia
Thea Musgrave, conductor
U.S. Premiere: 13 October
2011, Chicago Symphony Orchestra
J. Lawrie Bloom, bass clarinet, Susanna Mälkki, conductor
Publisher: Novello & Co Ltd
Two world premieres of works by Thea Musgrave, on 13 and 14 July, proved to be not only significant additions to Cheltenham's impressive list of first performances but also important and much needed concerto-style works for hitherto neglected instruments by a composer who has always shown a practical fascination for the personality and potential of every source of sound.
The music flows continuously, the autumnal mood enhanced by the bass clarinet, which coaxes rather than dominates the textures and dramatic fluency of what is a brilliantly conceived modern tone poem....I hope that it will soon be available on CD, for this is a work which deserves many hearings....
Musical Opinion (UK)
...[an] imaginatively conceived, beautifully executed 'autumnal dream landscape'.
Anthony Burton, The Musical Times
Critical Acclaim (U.S. premiere):
.......Malkki applied her talents to a program that looked odd on paper but which made perfect sense in the hearing. Works by Charles Ives surrounded the U.S. premiere of a new concerto by the Scottish-born American composer Thea Musgrave. "Also sprach Zarathustra" honored the CSO's long and proud Richard Strauss tradition.
Bass clarinet players almost never have concertos written for them, so Musgrave's "Autumn Sonata" (1994) should find widespread favor among reed players – also because it displays the soloist's mettle in crafty, subtly evocative ways. The instrument's darkly haunting timbres are woven through six connected sections – from martial fury, lamentation and a "shadow" duet with a second bass clarinet, to dreamy musings on material from Beethoven's "Moonlight" Sonata.
I'm not sure what expressive purpose the latter quotations serve, but the proficiency and sensitivity of CSO bass clarinetist J. Lawrie Bloom was something to marvel at. He received appreciative backing from his orchestral colleagues, including clarinetist John Bruce Yeh. The all-Musgrave chamber concert by Chicago's CUBE ensemble Sunday afternoon at the Merit School of Music will be well worth catching.....
Chicago Tribune, John von Rhein
......Most attention Thursday night focused on Autumn Sonata, a bass clarinet concerto by Thea Musgrave, which was being heard in its belated American premiere.
Cast in six unbroken sections, the 1994 work takes inspiration from the haunting poems of the Austrian writer Georg Trakl, who died in a Polish hospital during the First World War. Befitting the concerto’s title, the music is autumnal, restless and dream-like, cast in a dark expressive vein with ominous militaristic shadows in the martial rhythms and percussion writing.
The solo line is closely woven with the undulating mystery of the orchestral fabric. There is a violently explosive march-like middle section (con furore), followed by a searching Lamentoso. Near the end a second offstage bass clarinet echoes the soloist’s line......
..... Autumn Sonata is an effective work, evocative, concise (20 minutes), and smartly scored.
..... CSO’s J. Lawrie Bloom gave Musgrave’s concerto the highest possible advocacy, playing with seamless fluency and as much dark eloquence as the instrument can muster (John Bruce Yeh deftly provided the offstage clarinet Doppelganger). Under Mälkki’s tautly focused direction the CSO provided their colleague with close-knit support and the 83-year-old Scottish composer was on hand to share in the warm applause.......
The Chicago Classical Review, Larry Johnson
.....The name Thea Musgrave does not often appear on concert programs in Chicago. This week, a well-synchronized double whammy of events honors the Scottish-American composer. The 83-year-old’s impressive catalog ranges from full-scale operas to electronic music, and hardly gets the airing it should. Dynamic, rich and exuding a strange energy, Musgrave’s works invite listeners to create a narrative in their mind, drawing them in with her instinct for vivid sound drama.
......Autumn Sonata consists of five movements and coda played without interruption, and was inspired by the poetry of the late Austrian expressionist Georg Trakl. A longtime fan, Musgrave set one of his poems to music in her 1993 composition “Wild Winter.” Musgrave has written extensively for woodwinds. Intrigued by the “haloed and haunting tones” of the bass clarinet, she envisions the soloist as part of a dreamlike landscape. Solo duties here fall to the CSO’s versatile J. Lawrie Bloom, who will be directed by Finnish conductor Susanna Mälkki........
Time Out: Chicago, Mia Clarke -- October 12, 2011
As I started work on this Concerto, I found myself haunted by the poetry of Georg Trakl, the Austrian poet who died just after the onset of World War I. I had set one of his poems in Wild Winter, the work written immediately before this one. Accordingly I returned to his poems and chose several short fragments to preface the major sections of this autumnal dream landscape. The five movements and coda are played without any break and last about 20 minutes.
As the piece opens (I: Oscuro e misterioso), a dreamer approaches a dark, menacing forest, where "crows scatter" at the sound of "black footsteps," where (II: Svegliato) mysterious dark forces are awakening and bells toll the alarm. The echoing sound of deadly weapons now erupts (III: Alla marcia, con furore), and culminates in a pounding march, the major climax of the work. Eventually the march subsides and the "dark flutes of Autumn" greet the ghosts of heroes (IV: Lamentoso). Here the ancient chant, Dies Irae, is embodied in the musical texture in much the same way as it was in the setting of the Trakl poem in Wild Winter.
A reprise of the opening section follows, (V: Oscuro e misterioso). The "black footsteps" now become the "Steps of madness in black rooms, Shadows of old men under open doors" and an off-stage bass clarinet shadows the music of the solo bass clarinet. The crows once again scatter, but now "their flight is like a sonata, full of fading chords and manly despair" (VI: Adagio sostenuto): this is the Coda, where both music and descriptive words culminate in a quotation from Beethoven's "Moonlight" Sonata and we hear the three musical elements that open this famous sonata (the dotted rhythm of the melody, the accompanying triplet figure and the low resonant bass), which all have been individually hinted at throughout the concerto. The accompanying soft chordal clusters in the muted brass veils this quotation so that it is like a memory, a dream. At the final cadence violas, cellos and basses retune, and play at a series of natural harmonics on the resulting C sharp string -- the key of the Beethoven Sonata -- and the music softly dissolves "in a golden cloud".
Autumn Sonata is thus a sequel to Wild Winter, a work written to commemorate the seige of Lichfield. Neither work is intended as a direct description of war, but rather a memory, alternating between dream and nightmare.
Excerpts from the poems of Georg Trakl
I. Oscuro e misterioso
Herbst: schwarzes Schreiten am Waldsaum; ..
Autumn: black footsteps at the forest's edge; .
Krähen, die sich zerstreuen; drei. ..
Crows scatter apart; three of them
Verwandlung des Bösen. [A prose poem]
Transformation of evil
Und das Erwachen am Saum des dämmernden Walds
And, at dusk, the awakening at the forest's edge .
III. Alla marcia, con furore
Am Abend tönen die herbstlichen Wälder
Von tödlicher Waffen ..
In the evening, the sound of deadly weapons
Echoes through the autumn woods .
umfängt die Nacht
Sterbende Krieger, die wilde Klage
Ihrer zerbrochenen Münder.
The dying soldiers, the savage cries
From their broken mouths.
Zu grüssen die Geister der Helden, die blutenden Häupter;
Und leise tönen im Rohr die dunkeln Flöten des herbstes.
To greet ghosts of the heroes, the bloodied heads,
The dark flutes of Autumn play softly in the reeds.
O die Flöte des Lichts; o die Flöte des Tods.
Was zwang dich still zu stehen auf verfallener Stiege,
im Haus deiner Väter?.. Drunten ans Tor klopft ein
Engel mit kristallem Finger.
Oh flute of light; of flute of death.
What made you stand so quietly on the broken
down steps of your father's house? Down below
an angel knocks at the door with crystal fingers.
Verwandlung des Bösen.
V. Oscuro e misterioso
Die Stufen des Wahnsinns in schwarzen Zimmern,
Die Schatten der Alten unter der offenen Tür .
Steps of madness in darkened rooms,
Shadows of old men under the open door.
Krähen, die sich zerstreuen; drei. Ihr Flug gleicht einer
Sonata, voll verblichener Akkorde und mänlicher Schwermut;
Crows scatter apart; three of them. Their flight is like
a sonata, full of fading chords and manly despair
Verwandlung des Bösen
VI. Adagio sostenuto
leise lost sich eine goldeneWolke auf.
A golden cloud softly dissolves.
Verwandlung des Bösen
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
Thea Musgrave, conductor
Victoria Soames Samek, clarinet
Cala CACD 1023
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