A few weeks ago I featured my ‘Overtones’ for four clarinets as Piece of the Week. This time it’s the turn of Five Snapshots for Two Clarinets – five short pieces which offer a little less challenge than ‘Overtones’ both to the listener and the performer, and which I originally wrote for two advanced students.
However, as with ‘Overtones’ they are based on patterns of notes derived from the characteristics of the overtone series of the clarinet – its particularly feature being that unlike other woodwind instruments, where the fingering basically repeats itself when you go up an octave (sometimes aided by an ‘octave key’) on the clarinet the fingering begins again (with all fingers down) a twelfth above the lowest note. This aspect of the clarinet’s design (technically, only every other overtone is present in its sound makeup) helps to encourage its ‘hollow’ sound and also its wide pitch and expressive range, from an almost inaudible pianissimo to a screaming fortissimo, which makes the clarinet one of the most exciting instruments to write for.
Originally I conceived these pieces as studies, but I later added titles to them to reflect their mood and the ‘snapshots’ concept. Each piece is just two pages long.
The first piece ‘Focus’ sets the scene in a regular tempo – march-like, perhaps – with a clear focus on two contrasting ideas jumping between the upper and lower registers and between loud and quiet.
After than comes ‘Shadow’ – more relaxed and freer in rhythm. For much of the time one clarinet is shadowing the other one – one playing loudly while the other shadows it very quietly at the interval of a twelfth – and at other times both clarinets move together, but quite distanced in pitch, unlike the closer texture of the first movement.
The third movement is called ‘Figures’ and here the clarinets chase each other in scalic passages – mostly quietly but with one louder outburst near the end.
Again using the pattern of notes from ‘Overtones’, the fourth movement, ‘Searchlight’ suggests a light scanning the horizon with irregular rhythmic figures, and points of repose contrasted with flashing brightness. Finally ‘Landscape’ offers a mood of reflective tranquillity, using the same musical ideas as the first movement, but within a very different tempo and mood.