Copland, Aaron – Jazz influenced music – 04 Concerto for Clarinet and String Orchestra
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
Martin Fröst, clarinet Norwegian Chamber Orchestra
Aaron Copland's Clarinet Concerto was written between 1947 and 1949, although a first version was available in 1948. This composition is also sometimes referred to as the Concerto for Clarinet, Strings and Harp. The concerto was later choreographed by Jerome Robbins for the ballet Pied Piper (1951).
Soon after Copland composed his Symphony No. 3, in 1947 jazz clarinetist Benny Goodman commissioned him to write a concerto for clarinet. Goodman told Copland biographer Vivian Perlis:
I made no demands on what Copland should write. He had completely free rein, except that I should have a two-year exclusivity on playing the work. I paid two thousand dollars and that's real money. At the time there were not too many American composers to pick from... We never had much trouble except for a little fracas about the spot before the cadenza where he had written a repetition of some phrase. I was a little sticky about leaving it out—it was where the viola was the echo to give the clarinet a cue. But I think Aaron finally did leave it out... Aaron and I played the concerto quite a few times with him conducting, and we made two recordings"
Copland was in Rio de Janeiro in 1947 as a lecturer and conductor. While there he made many drafts of the concerto. On August 26, 1948, Copland wrote that the concerto was still "dribbling along". A month later, he wrote in a letter that the piece was almost done. On December 6, 1948, he wrote to composer Carlos Chavez that he had completed the composition and was pleased with the result.
Benny Goodman premiered the concerto on an NBC radio broadcast with the NBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Fritz Reiner, on November 6, 1950. The concerto quickly established itself as a standard piece in the clarinet repertoire.
Style and structure
Copland incorporated many jazz elements into his concerto.
Copland himself acknowledged that his signature "bittersweet lyricism" like in the first movement of the Clarinet Concerto may have been influenced by his feelings of loneliness and social alienation over his homosexuality.
On the piece, Copland writes:
"The instrumentation being clarinet with strings, harp, and piano, I did not have a large battery of percussion to achieve jazzy effects, so I used slapping basses and whacking harp sounds to simulate them. The Clarinet Concerto ends with a fairly elaborate coda in C major that finishes off with a clarinet glissando – or "smear" in jazz lingo."