Variations on the Carnival of Venice
for solo clarinet and orchestra*
solo clarinet and piano
* versions for: plectrum orchestra / string orchestra / concert wind band / clarinet choir
- composition date: 2019
- duration: ca. 10 min.
- commission: Orquestra Portuguesa de Guitarras e Bandolins (Portuguese Guitar and Mandolin Orchestra)
- dedication: «To Horácio Ferreira, distinguished artist, excellent clarinettist and dearest friend!»
- premiere: 8/September/2019 | Porto (Portugal), Casa da Música | Orquestra Portuguesa de Guitarras e Bandolins / Horácio Ferreira (clar.) / Hélder Magalhães (dir.)
Since my early days as a young clarinettist apprentice, virtuosity has always fascinated me. The ability to exalt the listener with technic and musical brilliance is within the reach of only a few top artists, but their prowess is as dazzling as the impressive achievements of certain elite athletes. This virtuosity typifies in our collective imaginary by such personalities as the fiery Paganini or the mystic Liszt, both of whom have created highly demanding solo works for their instruments (violin and piano respectively). But, in other instruments also (notably wind instruments), there were virtuoso-composers who earned their place in history by bequeathing us works of great technical brilliance, especially in mid-nineteen century Europe, where the bourgeois society of the time particularly enjoyed the musical soirees presented by virtuosi. In the case of the clarinet, Ernesto Cavallini (1807–1874) in Italy or Paul Jeanjean (1874–1928) in France stood out. In Portugal, José Avelino Canongia (1784–1842), the dean of the Portuguese clarinettists, also earned himself international fame as a virtuoso and composed four concerts and two sets of theme and variations for his instrument.
The musical form of choice for virtuosity displaying over the times has often been the theme and variations, and among the favourite themes for such, the “Carnival of Venice” takes a leading place. In fact, this is a traditional Neapolitan song, “Oh Mama, Mama Cara”, upon which Niccolò Paganini wrote in 1829 his challenging variations for violin and orchestra. In the following decades, several others followed suit, and virtuosic variations for the most varied instruments appeared, from the bugle to the trombone, the flute, and even the double bass, the guitar or the harp. For the clarinet, both Jeanjean and Cavallini also wrote variations on the “Carnival of Venice”, the latter, more specifically for the small clarinet in Eb.
Sometime back, also I considered writing my own Variations on the Carnival of Venice and even collected some sketches to it. The plan never materialized then, so when in 2019 António Vieira, the artistic director of the Portuguese Guitar and Mandolin Orchestra, approached me to write a concertante work for solo clarinet and plectrum orchestra, the idea of the “Carnival of Venice” returned, and this seemed the perfect timing for (finally!) completing my old project. Conceived now with the talent of clarinettist Horácio Ferreira in mind, and commissioned by the Plectrum Cultural Association, my intention was to create a piece that would carry that great nineteenth-century exaltation of virtuosity to the present, and in that process trying to modernizing it. Obviously, my training as a professional clarinettist also played a key role in the design of the soloist part, making it, I hope, quite more idiomatic. Basically, what I propose is to revisit a traditional old form, seen now as through the lens of the 21st-century.
These Variations are also my modest contribution to honour the great and vibrant class of Portuguese clarinettists, to which I proudly belong, and which has garnered huge international recognition through the contribution of so many talented players. Bravi tutti quanti!
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