15 June 2009

Five Little Pages

That’s all there is to Blue Shamrock. But to play those fives pages, is life richly lived.

Seven years ago now, it must be, my publisher asked around among composers in the ‘stable’ for pieces for unaccompanied clarinet. I had in my sketch-book a series of three ‘variations in search of a theme’ which I had composed while in St Petersburg (Russia); they were a sort of pitch-world jeu d’esprit I tinkered with, at a time when I ought to have been focusing exclusively on completing the composition of my doctoral dissertation. (I actually did quite a bit of non-dissertation composing in those few years; and although the obvious ‘transgression’ is, that completion of the dissertation was delayed, I find that more than compensated for by the large number of smaller pieces I drew up then, some of which remain fair favorites of mine.)

In the case of the draught variations which later became Blue Shamrock, I ‘justified’ that detour from the dissertation by including part of it as a wild chamber intermezzo leading into the fourth ‘Ayre,’ “Speculative Biology (I).” Chances are that Uncondyssion’d Ayres won’t be performed anytime soon; and it tickles me a bit that, to continue to keep Blue Shamrock in my performing repertory, is a sort of perpetual celebration of my musical emergence from the years of academia.

To return to a perhaps fatally derailed narrative, when Mark Gresham at Lux Nova asked after clarinet unaccompanied music, I fetched forth the sketches I had drawn up in Petersburg a few years earlier, and finished the piece up as just those three variants, rather than pursuing their further metamorphosis. Blue Shamrock was sent to the inquiring clarinetist, who must have found them a harder nut than quite suited his pesto.

It cannot be argued but that the piece has a high effort-to-final-musical-duration ratio. But that, too, is one reason I like to keep it in my rep. My short list of reasons:
  1. I like the piece, musically
  2. I really enjoy the piece as a virtuosic display (I am in harmony with my ‘inner Liszt’)
  3. Having already expended the effort to get the piece ‘in my fingers’, it makes sense to continue to make much use of it
  4. The generation of a ‘reference’ recording has eluded me
  5. I love playing, but I find it difficult to make time to practice, as a general thing; the keen challenges entailed in Blue Shamrock are one motivation not to abandon the clarinet entirely
  6. Since to my knowledge, no other clarinetist who has looked at the piece, has ‘bellied up’ yet, each successive performance that I log could be considered a triumph of my nerve
  7. Or, if I don’t play it, who on the planet will?
Some few years ago, I played the piece on a recital in Woburn, and I was reasonably well pleased with the performance. We got a fairly good recording of the event, too (which included the premiere — and so far, sole performance — of Night of the Weeping Crocodiles) . . . on cassette. I gave the cassette to a friend so that it could be transferred to compact disc — and he lost the cassette. Outrage at the loss has long ago subsided (and I have well learnt the lesson that, if you have only one copy of a recording, do not give it out unduplicated, even if you think the other fellow the most reliable person in the world), but probably the regret will not evaporate completely until I have good recordings of both pieces.

That milk has long been spilt, and I am not posting here to weep over it. Ever since, of course, I have had as a priority to work the piece up again, for a good recording. Twice-ish, now, I scheduled the piece for preparation, but the heat & noise of life interfered with preparation, which was fair, but which needs to improve a good deal on fair.

Thus, Gentle Reader, I try again.

[ click for larger image ]

1 comment:

Andrew Seigel said...

If you want someone else to take a look at it, I'm game. Contact me at andrew.seigel@gmail.com. I'd love to see Blue Shamrock.