Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Rossini - Introduction, Theme and Variations for Clarinet and Orchestra

Gioachino Rossini is more well known for his operas, some of which have remained in the repertoire since they were written early in the 19th century. By the time Rossini retired from composing for the stage in 1829 when he was thirty eight years old, he was the most well known and popular opera composer in Europe.

Rossini lived until 1868 and composed a few songs, sacred music and a set of pieces in 14 volumes calledSins of My Old Age. But when Rossini began his career as a composer he also wrote a piece for clarinet and orchestra that has been popular with clarinetists and audiences ever since. He wrote Introduction, Theme and Variations for Clarinet and Orchestra when he was 18 years old.

Introduction - Andante - The work begins with a loud call from the orchestra to get the listener's attention (an effect Rossini often used in his opera overtures). The volume recedes as the soloist enters. Rossini treats the clarinet as he would an operatic diva as the clarinet plays a sweet melody. A short crescendo from the orchestra is followed by more virtuosic music from the soloist.

Theme - Allegretto - Rossini's theme is a perky tune that challenges the articulation abilities of the soloist.

Variation I -  Piu mosso - The pace quickens slightly as the clarinet embellishes the theme. A short interlude by the orchestra leads to the next variation.

Variation II - Running sixteenth notes dominate the solo part as the brisk pace is continued. Another short interlude by the orchestra leads to the next variation.

Variation III -  Arpeggios, repeated notes and scales are played by the soloist in this variation as the strings play pizzicato. The interlude from the previous variation is repeated by the orchestra.

Variation IV - Largo minore - Piu mosso - A tempo - The tempo slows as the clarinet plays a soulful version of the theme.  The clarinet's range of expression and volume is showcased by Rossini in this variation. The tempo quickens in an orchestra lead up to the last variation.

Variation V -  There's a lot of notes for the soloist in this last variation as the clarinet plays at break neck speed. The orchestral interlude heard at the end of the 2nd and 3rd variation returns along with more fireworks for the clarinet. The orchestra turns silent as the clarinet plays a cadenza, after which a short coda rounds off  the work with a statement by the orchestra and a rapid scale that ascends to the clarinet's highest register.

There is some debate among musicologists whether Rossini actually composed this piece. Some contend that he wrote the theme and a student wrote the variations.  Whether we shall ever know for sure or not doesn't detract from the music itself.  Whomever composed the piece wrote a sparkling set of variations for the clarinet.

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