Concerto for Clarinet and Wind Ensemble

From Wind Repertory Project
John Corigliano

John Corigliano (trans. Craig B. Davis)

General Info

Year: 1977/ 2015
Duration: c. 29:40
Difficulty: (see Ratings for explanation)
Publisher: G. Schirmer
Cost: Score and Parts - Unknown


1. Cadenzas - 9:45
2. Elegy - 9:00
3. Antiphonal Toccata - 9:50


Full Score
C Piccolo
Flute I-II-III
English Horn
Bassoon I-II-III
E-flat Soprano Clarinet
B-flat Soprano Clarinet I-II-III
B-flat Bass Clarinet
B-flat Contrabass Clarinet
B-flat Soprano Saxophone
E-flat Alto Saxophone I-II
B-flat Tenor Saxophone
E-flat Baritone Saxophone
B-flat Trumpet I-II-IIIIV
Flugelhorn I-II
Horn in F I-VII
Trombone I-II-III
Bass Trombone
Euphonium (Bass Clef & Treble Clef) I-II
Tuba I-II
Percussion I-II-III-IV-V, including:

  • Bass Drum
  • Crash Cymbals
  • Crotales
  • Marimba
  • Snare Drum
  • Suspended Cymbal
  • Synthesizer
  • Tambourine
  • Tam-Tam
  • Temple Blocks
  • Tenor Drum
  • Tom-Tom
  • Triangle
  • Vibraphone
  • Wood Block
  • Xylophone

Solo Violin


None discovered thus far.

Program Notes

I rely on the components of particular concerts to generate my musical materials. This commission from the New York Philharmonic provided me with a unique constellation of elements that eventually formed the basis of my approach to the work. My associations as a child – attending rehearsals and performances with my father, who was then the concertmaster of the Philharmonic – gave me the opportunity of getting to know many of the men in the orchestra both as artists and friends. This feeling of intimacy governed my decision to make sure that my first work for the Philharmonic utilized the entire orchestra. I was aware that, with a wind concerto, this is a potentially dangerous thing to do – to solve problems of balance most such pieces are discreetly scored for small ensembles – but it provided me with a fascinating challenge.

My regard for the musicians of the Philharmonic also shaped their role in the accompaniment to this Concerto. In it, each player has a chance to display solo virtuosity; often the work approaches being a concerto for orchestra in its demands. The soloist, Stanley Drucker, was first clarinetist of the Philharmonic in my youth. Knowing his special gifts enabled me to write music of unprecedented difficulty for the solo instrument and gave me the idea that generates the first movement: the opening cadenza.

I. Cadenzas. The first movement is actually two cadenzas, separated by an interlude. It starts directly with the first cadenza, subtitled “Ignis fatuus” (“Will-o’-the-wisp”). Like that phosphorescent flickering light, this cadenza is almost audibly invisible. The soloist begins with a rapid, unaccompanied, whispering run, then appears and disappears – playing as fast as possible – leaving glowing remnants behind in the orchestra. All the material for this movement is contained in the initial cadenza, including a central chord which functions as a tonic might in conventional harmony. This chord (E-flat, D, A, E-natural) is derived from the clarinet melody and is held by the string under the rapid clarinet passages of the last part of the cadenza.

The interlude begins with an orchestra tutti that transforms the original clarinet run into slow, almost primeval sounds in the lower winds, while the upper strings and winds play other fragments of the cadenza. The clarinet enters and soon begins to pull the orchestra ahead, goading it into a more feverish tempo. The low wins then accelerate and become secco while the solo clarinet and trombones begin a contest consisting of glissandi in jagged canons until the string burst forth in a bubbling contrapuntal reiteration of the original clarinet run. From here to the end of the interlude, the orchestra and clarinet race ahead, building energy and preparing bursts that introduce the second cadenza, subtitled “Corona solis.”

“Corona solis” (i.e., the crown or corona of the sun) is the macrocosmic version of the microcosmic “Ignis fatuus” – the opening cadenza transformed into blazing bursts of energy, accompanied by orchestra outbursts and dominated by the soloist. “Corona solis” builds to a peak that signals the entrance of the full orchestra. This in turn builds to a long-held climax in which the “tonic chord” from the “Ignis fatuus” boils with energy. The chord eventually diminished in intensity until it is finally held by only four solo strings. The solo clarinet then enters pianissimo, and after assisting the disintegration of the held chord, flickers and finally disappears into silence.

II. Elegy. The slow movement, “Elegy,” was written in the memory of my father, who died on September 01, 1975. He was concertmaster of the Philharmonic for 23 years, and I still find it hard to think of the orchestra without him sitting in the first chair. So the idea of an extended dialogue for clarinet and violin seemed not only natural but inevitable. This duet has a special poignancy for me when I remember the many years that my father and Stanley Drucker were colleagues under the baton of Leonard Bernstein.

The “Elegy” begins with a long, unaccompanied line for the violins. The lower strings enter, and a mood of sustained lyricism introduced the solo clarinet. The prevailing feeling is that of desolation. I deliberately avoided an emotional climax in the “Elegy,” feeling that by sustaining the same mood throughout the music would achieve a heightened intensity. Structurally, this movement alternates two main melodic ideas: the first (in B) is introduced by the strings, while the second (in B-flat) is presented by the clarinet. A three-note motto (C#, B, B-flat) grows from the alternation of the two tonalities and provides a third major element. The movement ends as it began, with the same long violin line – this time joined by the clarinet.

III. Antiphonal Toccata. The finale is my solution to the balance problems created by using the full orchestra in a wind concerto. Early on, I made a decision to save some of the instruments (5 horns, 2 trumpets, and 2 clarinets) for the final moments of the Concerto. This gave me the idea of physically separating them from the rest of the orchestra, and that, in turn, led to locating them in spatial positions so that they could be used antiphonally. An immediate problem arose – that of being able to synchronize the distant instruments with the orchestra. The relatively slow speed of sound can mean up to a one-second delay between the sounding of a tone and its perception at a distance in a concert hall, making precisely synchronized playing impossible. The solution, I found, was to write music that specifically should not be synchronized, and against these erratic patterns I superimposed the opposite rhythmic idea – that of a toccata, with its regular, tightly-aligned, motor-rhythmic pulsations.

“Antiphonal Toccata” is basically in two sections: the first uses alternating calls on the stage as well as motion across the stage, and the second involves the players situated around the hall. While the strings of the orchestra are seated conventionally, the brass and percussion are resituated for this movement so they can engage in antiphonal conversation. Trombones and tuba, usually placed near the trumpets, are located to the left of the stage, while the trumpets are to the right. In addition, two sets of timpani are positioned on opposite sides of the stage.

The movement begins with an irregular rhythmic pulsation at the far right of the stage, as the last stands of cellos and violas play a single note that slowly moves across the stands of strings from right to left, finally ending at the far left of the stage in the last stands of violins. Over this, another note emerges in the trumpets in a slow, freely pulsating rhythm.

Three bassoons and a contrabassoon provide the first melodic material, a quote from Giovanni Gabrieli’s Sonata Pian e Forte, written in 1597. (The eminent musicologist Curt Sachs wrote that “The art of orchestration had been born” with this piece.) Gabrieli was one of the first composers to specify that particular instruments play particular lines, but his main interest for me lay in his brilliant use of antiphonal instrumental choirs. The Gabrieli motive develops into a large pulsating chord, which contains all twelve notes and forms the first of two tone-rows used throughout the movement. The solo clarinet enters, introducing the toccata rhythm (the part is marked “computer-like”) and the second of the tone rows, this one presented melodically. This section is followed by antiphonal calls between the solo clarinet and the onstage brass. The dialogues take the form of short repeated fanfares constructed so that they choirs of instruments do not play repeated notes together, an elements of the non-alignment that will be developed in the finale’s second section. The solo clarinet and orchestra build to a sudden sforzando.

Five offstage horns are now heard for the firs time, playing in a soft, cluster-like texture. This abrupt movement of the action off the stage is in counterpoint to continued onstage playing, including a recapitulation of the Gabrieli motive by four solo basses. The solo clarinet develops this material lyrically and is joined by the two orchestral clarinets now playing at the top of the hall. All play a slow, descending triple canon. The soloist interrupts with a soft but rapid restatement of the toccata subject, but the offstage clarinets ignore this and re-echo the descending canon. Suddenly, the toccata returns fortissimo in the orchestra, establishing a momentum that continues to the end of the movement. Conversations between solo clarinet and onstage trumpet and trombones are now extended to include two offtstage trumpets (at the rear of the hall). A short but highly virtuosic cadenza leads to an outburst of all offstage instruments and to a buildup of the initial row-chord in the orchestra. This is followed by an extended coda with a fortissimo restatement of the Gabrieli theme and an antiphonal ending.

- Program Note by composer


State Ratings

None discovered thus far.


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