It may seem strange, but both in the field of classical and contemporary music there is a void regarding the repertoire for classical guitar and clarinet duo. A void that has been partially filled by three CDs entirely dedicated to this particular formation. I note with a little bit of pride as these three CDs were made by Italian interpreters, in particular by guitarists Alessandra Novaga, Gabriele Zanetti and Leonardo De Marchi. I took the liberty of using the notes contained in their CDs to create this article in the hope of being able to provide more useful informations to those wishing to engage in this repertoire. I am therefore grateful to these interpreters for their courtesy and availability.
But let’s start from the beginning. The clarinet and the guitar became “à la mode” instruments in the last decades of the eighteenth century, practiced above all in the bourgeois salon, loved by the amateurs, generating a plethora of pages of modest technical content where literature addressed itself in the following decades towards brilliance and executive virtuosity, also thanks to publishing (marketing is always lurking) that readily caught the potential of a rapid ability to adapt to the most recent tastes. The new Hausmusik required, in fact, pages of immediate enjoyment and technical-executive obstacles that could easily be overcome: innumerable instrumental transcriptions, linked above all to the success enjoyed throughout Europe by opera music, ended up becoming an integral part of the repertoire of any amateur, combined with original pieces of good stylistic and formal construction.
The literature for clarinet and guitar enjoyed a certain popularity in the early decades of the nineteenth century, where we can find some interesting works, such as a Duel by Ferdinando Carulli (1770-1841), of which we have only the calrinet’s manuscript part, three Duo by Filippo Gragnani (1767-1820), which were published by Gilardi in Livorno in 1820, the Senerata by Joseph Kuffner (1776-1856) or the Notturni by Matteo Barbi (1798-?). According to the practice in vogue in the early decades of the nineteenth century, the solo part was often written for clarinet in C, as in the case of Barbi’s Notturni. These pieces were usually composed for the amusement of some rich amateur and often they were nothing more than mere transcriptions, as in the case of the first Duo by Gragnani, re-proposing an original page for mandolin and guitar. During the 20th century, numerous authors dedicated their attention to the clarinet and guitar duo, producing works of absolute value.
Let’s start with Métissage, a CD made in 2013 by Spring in Duo, Alessandra Novaga on classical guitar and Maria Teresa Battistessa on clarinet and basset horn. Already the title of the cd, Metissage, gives us some clues about the narration adopted within this album: Métissage in French means contamination, a term, a concept used to emphasize the variety and diversity of the compositions present on this album. Métissage also makes direct reference to the piece, Metiss, by Laurent Boutros, a French composer with Armenian origins, generously dedicated to the duo. Metiss means the contamination between two opposing universes, in this case the Caribbean with the clave, a rhythmic model used as a tool for temporal organization in Afro-Cuban music, and a Middle Eastern Caucasian melody. Laurent Boutros is also present with another of his pieces, Amasia, another testimony of two worlds that coexist with a third recognizable element in a sort of Argentine Milonga.
The first traces of the cd are Otto Pezzi by Paolo Fontana, Roman composer, author of eight short, but delicious frescoes, each with a very characteristic title, almost descriptive of the music itself. Very interesting is the piece by Giancarlo Facchinetti, a well-known and prolific composer from Brescia. It is called Tre Pezzi and was written in 1979 for Oscar Ghiglia and Giuseppe Garbarino but was never performed, it’s a rigorous twelve-tone manuscript, but not devoid of lyricism and airiness. Facchinetti has also composed for the duo Fantasia Breve for bassetto and guitar, where the composer moves away from dodecaphony to use instead a polytonal style. The use of the bassetto horn instead of the clarinet is found in Fantasia on the theme of Fandango, in Berceuse, by Antonio Eros Negri, a composer based in Milan. The composer himself has used these words to describe the passage: “A closer examination of the subject, which is quite surprisingly close to being sequential: the first part is built on the four remaining pitches, the second part is built just below the four remaining pitches. radical use of the weaving of the instruments. ” .
The diversity of styles in the album is further increased by “Bagliori di altri cieli”, written by Alessandro Cerino, stimulating jazzman, author of this breathtaking track in which the beautiful melodies and harmonies seem to follow each other and intertwine in a dialogue almost without breath.
The second CD, “Aulodia” by Stefano Gamba and Gabriele Zanetti, shows a more transversal repertoire. The song “Aulodia per Lothar” by Italian composer Bruno Maderna, originally for oboe d’amore and guitar and composed in 1965 for the great German oboist Lothar Faber, Aulodia per Lothar is an example of high lyricism, of cosmic music, anticipating a new timbral fusion between the two instruments. Ricercar by Dusan Bogdanovic represents an example of the polymorphous and composite language of this author who has always been linked to Balkan popular music, already a melting pot of different rhythms and styles, which here winks from the title to Flemish polyphony. Windows (1966) is the result of the ingenuity of the American composer, musical educator and parodist Peter Schickele.
Schickele is known for his pseudonym “P. D. Q. Bach ”with whom he composed a large number of parodic passages. It’s a work in three parts that expresses a series of different styles, Renaissance, folk and African. Mist over lake by Jan Freidlin was composed in 1985 as part of Forest Pictures for violin and piano.
The Sonate composed by Ferdinand Rebay was written at the end of the ’20s, where appear operatic and folkloristic elements very different from the contemporary styles that were being developed in the Vinenna of the same period. The guitar is absent in Steve Reich’s New York Counterpoint, the minimalist work par excellence where process and repetition meet happily in a hypnotic and light piece. Contemporary and twelve-tone Vienna returns in Anton Webern’s Drei Leider Op. 18 and closes this excellent work, attentive to the search for a comprehensive literature of different styles.
The third cd, by Leonardo De Marchi on guitar and Sauro Berti on clarinet, is titled “Enantiosemie. The Trecani Encyclopedia tells us that it indicates” In linguistics, the semantic condition of a word that in its historical development has assumed an opposite meaning to the etymological one, for example, the adjective working which, derived from the Latin feriae “days of rest”, originally meant “festive” whereas today it means “working”. “This concept is used to show how the clarinet and the guitar have been able to interpret styles and search modes often diametrically opposed to each other, but also how each performer can interpret the same score in completely different ways.These apparent contradictions are clearly evident in the piece that opens the cd: “First speech heretic on the lightness of nails “(2000) by Nadir Vassena (1970), a piece written for Mats Scheidegger (1963) and Harry Sparnaay (1944-2017) who owes his dramatic character to the sudden pauses and to the sharp contrast of different sound materials.
The title presents an oxymoron, referring in a provocative way to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, and anticipates harsh and irregular sounds, oscillating between ethereal lightness and pungent hardness, thanks to a musical writing where the bass clarinet and the guitar analyze the material dimensions of the sound until to its most basic components. By contrast, the five movements of “Sand sculptures” (2011) by Scott Lygate (born in 1989) create an ironic sound fresco like a popular song, inspired by some sand sculptures he had seen and admired in Portugal, sculptures to which they are entitled the movements of the suite and where Lygate gives a demonstration of his in-depth knowledge of the most extensive techniques on both instruments. The result is particularly evocative. The atmosphere of “Il respiro del silenzio” (2017) by the Roman composer Patrizio Esposito (born in 1960) is decidedly darker and darker. It is evident from the beginning that the score depicts a restless and gloomy night. Esposito perfectly succeeds in uniting the texture of the bass clarinet with the punctuation of the guitar, in fact the subtle and meticulous research on nuances of timbre and dynamics is the strength of writing. The Dutch composer Maurice Verheul (born 1964) has dedicated many solo and chamber works to bass clarinetist Harry Sparnaay. In “Obtuser air” (2016), his first opera for guitar duo, the instruments enter into dialogue with each other on absolute and equal territories, in an uninterrupted game of themes and motifs that pass from one instrument to another, the material of the piece comes from a single rhythmic cell, a tresillo, which characterizes most of the Latin American music. Here Verheul carries out a continuous process of deformation: the result is an alienating and contemplative character; sometimes grotesque.
The composer’s ironic tendency also emerges in the title “Obtuser air”, which is nothing less than an anagram of Sauro Beni, to whom the work is dedicated. “The fable of Apollo and Marsyas” [“The myth of Apollo and Marsyas”] (2017) by Antonio Bellandi (born 1974), is a piece in which the action of the drama adheres faithfully to the myth of Apollo and Marsyas, as reported by the Latin writer Iginus. The unique possibilities offered by the ten-string guitar allow the composer to explicitly describe the salient points of the story: in particular he takes full advantage of the expanding clusters in the low register and the auras created by the resonances, using harmonics and percussion on the body of the instrument. Ballade “by Hugo Pfister (l914-1969), the only piece of this CD belonging to the classical repertoire for clarinet and guitar, is noteworthy because of its severe and gloomy atmosphere. It was probably composed in 1959, at the end of the studies by Swiss composer Nadia Boulanger This obscurity is lightened by the concise “Invitation”, a tribute to Harry Sparnaay by the French composer Colette Mourey (born in 1954, who later dedicated the piece “Blues sonata” to the duo Berti-De Marchi). tribute is based, like the previous one, on alternating sections of a contrasting nature.The bass clarinet is often pushed to its highest register using an idiom that recalls the lesson of the twelve studies of Hector Vìlla-Lobos.It should be noted that the two interpreters are present in the role of composers with a piece each, “Pagina d’album” by Leonardo De Marchi is a sort of intermezzo in ternary form and its lyrical atmosphere acts as a fleeting interlude between the most weighty works i of Bellandi and Pfisrer. “Enantiosernie” by Sauro Berti on the other hand seems to suggest, with the simultaneous use of four metronomes that the interpreters must follow, that the linear, orderly and rigorous perception of time can paradoxically lead to a contrary result at the same time. The CD closes with the “Trio n.l (Musique d’automne)” (1942) for flute, clarinet in A and guitar by the Romanian composer (later naturalized Swiss) Andor Kovach (1915-2005). Where the guitar, which in the first pieces was a protagonist, now partially gives way to the two wind instruments, contenting itself with providing the harmony and rhythm with which flute and clarinet develop their respective melodic lines.
These are three special CDs, each of which proposes a different and interesting repertoire, presenting pieces with unique and particular characteristics. To complete this article I also indicate how the CD book by Stefano Gamba and Gabriele Zanetti also suggests these passages: Franco Cavallone’s Trilogy, Ommegang by Wolfram Furstenau, Ballade by Claude Gagnon, Girlish ears by Nicola Jappelli, Schirokko by Hansjoaclum Kaps, Six aphorisms by Daniel Kessner, Sérénades by Takashi Ogawa, Continuo by Stefano Procaccioli, Drei Vortragsstucke by Ferdinand Rebay.