Songs for Instruments – Clarinet Quintet
With Guest Artist Todd Palmer
From the Composer
Most people recognize song form, whether they know it or not. That is, if they hear a snippet of a song on the radio, they’re likely to have a sense of whether they are in a verse or a chorus, or near the beginning or the end of a song. As a composer, I am fascinated by the prevalence of song in our listening landscape in part because of this immediate sense of “knowing where you are.” Other rich topics lurk in the realm of song, too, including the presence of voice (lyricism, words), and therefore character (subjectivity, personal attributes), and also the matter of short musical form versus long form.
Meanwhile, when we think of the Clarinet Quintet as a genre, we think of wonderful and, for a composer, daunting precedents, like those of Brahms and Mozart. These pieces are of course written in longer formal arcs and employ musical arguments that work for that kind of musical thinking.
Either way, one contends with time. Sound and time.
In Songs for Instruments I want to pursue some of this thinking about how we hear today, how music speaks, and how it relates to music of the past. What is the difference in musical terms between short form and long form? How might the clarinet constitute a voice and even imply words in the sonic environment of clarinet quintet? Or is it the cello that is the most naturally lyric of the bunch? (Wink.)
While it’s great fun to drift into the lofty sphere of meaning and abstraction in thinking about music, I am constantly lately reminded as a composer that instruments are tools. They are objects that do things, like hammers and saws. They contain in their physical make-ups the potential for executing sounds. And so it is implicit that a concern for how to employ instruments as tools will come into play in writing this new work. The ensemble of four strings and clarinet presents a fantastic spectrum of possibility.