Prelude, Fugue and Riffs

From Wind Repertory Project
Leonard Bernstein

Leonard Bernstein

Subtitle: For Solo Clarinet and Jazz Ensemble

General Info

Year: 1949 / 1974 / 1991
Duration: c. 7:55
Difficulty: (see Ratings for explanation)
Original Medium: Big Band
Publisher: Boosey & Hawkes
Cost: Score and Parts - Out of print.


1. Prelude for the Brass - 1:50
2. Fugue for the Saxes - 1:50
3. Riffs for Everyone - 4:10


Full Score
Solo Clarinet
Saxophones (5)
Trumpets (5)
Trombones (4)
Percussion (2), including:

  • Trap Set
  • Vibraphone
  • Xylophone
  • Wood Block


None discovered thus far.

Program Notes

In 1949, Bernstein took his penchant for jazz composition straight to the heart of the genre when he agreed to write a piece for famed clarinetist Woody Herman and his Thundering Herd big band. The result was Prelude, Fugue and Riffs, a work intended to be part of a series of jazz-influenced pieces by prominent classical composers commissioned by Herman, a collection that already included Igor Stravinsky’s Ebony Concerto. Unfortunately, by the time Bernstein completed the score in November 1949, the Thundering Herd had disbanded and Herman would never perform the piece. Bernstein rescored some of the music for pit orchestra in 1952 as a ballet sequence in his stage comedy Wonderful Town, but it wasn’t until 1955 that the original Prelude, Fugue and Riffs was premiered. Benny Goodman performed the piece with the composer conducting as part of a telecast hosted by Bernstein called “What is Jazz?”

Prelude, Fugue and Riffs was largely ignored for some time afterward, however, being overshadowed by the tremendous success of West Side Story in 1957. It is only in the past few decades that the piece has been recognized for its singularly unique place in the repertoire. Even though the work is scored for conventional jazz band and is thoroughly rooted in the “hot” swing and blues style, Bernstein cleverly uses traditional classical elements in the music’s construction. The Prelude is strictly for the brass, with angular syncopated statements alternating with heavy, slow swing interludes. The Fugue enters without a break and is written for the saxophone section alone. Bernstein skillfully blurs the bar lines, moving the original fugue subject around in every direction. A solo piano takes over to start the Riffs section, and the solo clarinet is introduced for the first time. The whole band joins in with an infectious “riff,” combined with themes from the preceding Prelude and Fugue. No holds are barred in the final frenzied bars of the piece as the players are instructed by the composer to repeat the last phrase “as many times as seems psychologically right (that is, to an ‘exhaustion point’)."

- Program Note from U.S. Marine Band concert program, 14 December 2016


State Ratings

None discovered thus far.


To submit a performance please join The Wind Repertory Project

  • Royal Northern College of Music (Manchester, Eng.) Wind Orchestra (Maria Carboso, conductor; Gábor Varga, clarinet) - 24 November 2023
  • University of Oregon Wind Ensemble (Dennis Llinas, conductor; Wonkak Kim, clarinet) - 1 December 2021
  • University of Oklahoma (Norman) Wind Symphony (Shanti Simon, conductor) - 23 April 2021
  • Michigan State University (East Lansing) Wind Symphony (Kevin Sedatole, conductor; Nicholas Schumacher, clarinet; Derek Polischuk, piano) - 21 April 2021
  • University of Miami (Fla.) Frost Wind Ensemble (Robert Carnachan, conductor; Martin Bejerano, piano; Margaret Donaghue Flavin, clarinet) - 21 February 2021
  • Texas A&M University (College Station) Wind Symphony (Timothy Rhea, conductor; Jenna Gaulden, clarinet) - 18 October 2020
  • New York (N.Y.) Wind Orchestra (Hana Kim, conductor; Seungho Choi, clarinet) – 14 December 2019
  • State University of New York, Potsdam, Crane Wind Ensemble (Brian K. Doyle, conductor; Raphael Sanders, clarinet) – 25 November 2019
  • Dallas (Tx.) Winds (Jerry Junkin, conductor; Gregory Raden, clarinet) – 26 March 2019
  • Cornell University (Ithaca, N.Y.) Wind Symphony (James Spinazzola, conductor) – 17 November 2018
  • Butler University (Indianapolis, Ind.) Wind Ensemble (Michael Colburn, conductor; Patrick Morgan, clarinet) – 15 November 2018
  • University of Texas (Austin) Wind Ensemble (Jerry Junkin, conductor) – 4 November 2018
  • University of Cincinnati (Ohio) College-Conservatory of Music Wind Symphony (Kevin Michael Holzman, conductor; Ron Aufmann, clarinet) – 31 October 2018
  • Maryland Winds (Glenelg) (Timothy Holtan, conductor) - 9 October 2018
  • Boston (Mass.) Conservatory Wind Ensemble (Vimbayi Kaziboni, conductor) – 6 October 2018
  • State University of New York, Fredonia, Wind Ensemble (Paula Holcomb, conductor) – 29 April 2018
  • Colorado (Denver) Wind Ensemble (David Kish, conductor; Richard Stoltzman, clarinet) – 7 April 2018
  • University of California, Los Angeles, Wind Ensemble (Travis J. Cross, conductor; Dalton Tran, clarinet) – 23 February 2018
  • Oklahoma State University (Stillwater) Wind Ensemble (Joseph Missal, conductor) – 22 February 2018
  • University of Michigan (Ann Arbor) Symphony Band (Michael Haithcock, conductor; Anthony McGill, clarinet) – 21 November 2017
  • University of Southern California (Los Angeles) Thornton Wind Ensemble (H. Robert Reynolds, conductor) – 31 March 2017

Works for Winds by This Composer

Adaptable Music

  • Cool (Flex instrumentation) (arr. Murtha) (1957/2018)
  • West Side Story (Flex instrumentation) (arr. Sweeney) (1957/2015)

All Wind Works


  • Bernstein, L. (1974). Prelude, Fugues and Riffs: For Solo Clarinet and Jazz Ensemble [score]. Jalni Publications: [New York].
  • Girsberger, Russ. Percussion Assignments for Band & Wind Ensemble. Volume I: A-K. Galesburg, MD: Meredith Music Publications, 2004, 39. Print.