clarinet, violin, viola and cello

The Quartet for Clarinet and String Trio heralded the new way of writing that Penderecki adopted at the beginning of the 1990s. Founded on research into “classical” beauty, this style is clear in form, pure, and pithy. Penderecki felt the need to write a work of chamber music and, rather than waiting for a commission, he set to work. The resulting clarinet quartet was inspired by Schubert’s Quintet in C. It generally evokes the Viennese atmosphere of not only Beethoven and Schubert but also that of Schoenberg, in its waltz, and even that of Alban Berg, in the lyricism of its first and final movements. The titles of the movements — Notturno, Scherzo, Serenade, and Abschied (Farewell) — are also very typical of the music of the Austrian capital. Though Penderecki planned to write seven movements, the final work only has four. In the initial Adagio the clarinet presents a long, expressive, and melancholy melody. The viola joins in, and the violin makes several short interventions. The cello, meanwhile, holds a pedal tone: a low Bb, played on its C string retuned down a tone for this movement. Penderecki exploits with refinement the similarities in timbre and register between the clarinet and the viola. With the almost constant movement created by notes repeated at top speed, the Scherzo sounds typically Beethovian. The highly chromatic melodic contour of these notes transforms the movement into a kind of crossword puzzle for the different instruments. With its large melodic range and its mischievous sounding episode in dotted rhythm, the Serenade, marked Tempo di valse, might well have been written by Schoenberg. The waltz falls apart, and then the final Abschied begins; its melodic contour resembles that of the opening of the waltz. This last movement — it is as long as the three preceding movements combined — is very melancholic and very beautiful. The work ends on a luminous F major chord. Speaking in an interview of this work, Penderecki compared its final movement with the end of a dinner shared by four friends: they have conversed amply during the meal, and know each other so well that they no longer need many words or details to be understood.

Olga Ranzenhofer [English translation: Sean McCutcheon, x-21]