Chris Dench – ruins within (1991-94) clarinet in A

Rebecca Saunders – Caerulean (2010-11) bass clarinet

Chikako Morishita – Skin, Gelatine, Soot (2013) bass clarinet

Brian Ferneyhough – Time and Motion Study I (1971-77) bass clarinet

ruins within was commissioned by Carl Rosman with funds provided by the Performing Arts Board of the Australia Council

Caerulean was commissioned by Festival Les Amplitudes, La Chaux-de-Fonds

Chris Dench composed ruins within for me in 1994. As usual in his woodwind solos, it features an intricately interwoven structure, here inspired by such literary precedents as Raymond Roussel’s Nouvelles impressions d’Afrique and such musical precedents as Marin Marais’s viola da gamba solo Le Labyrinthe (ruins within was indeed at one stage planned for solo viola). Unusually in Dench’s woodwind solos up to this point, the structure is articulated not just with notes but occasionally with silence – and, often, near-silence: not only the usual subtones so characteristic of the clarinet, but also quiet multiphonics, often featuring two notes closely spaced, typically with a relatively pure tone. These form a clear strand through the piece’s convoluted form, generally in the background but coming into their own near the end. (They have also formed a strand throughout my own solo collaborations since, appearing in solo and chamber works by Richard Barrett, Rebecca Saunders and others.)

ruins within:

Rebecca Saunders and I first met in 2003, to work on materials for the dance project insideout (with Ensemble Musikfabrik and Sasha Waltz’s dance company). In such meetings, the question of whether a performer has a favourite area of instrumental technique is a fairly standard one. In this case the answer was a particular category of multiphonics featuring two clear pitches in relatively close intervals, obtained by opening a hole high on the tube while leaving most of the other holes closed, giving a high fundamental pitch in combination with a low pitch in the first overblown register. (Those sounds had already formed an important part of the materials for ruins within; they found their way not only into insideout but into the chamber piece Stirrings Still, recorded on WERGO 66942.) Insideout used Bb and A clarinets, but over the following years we had several sessions working towards other Ensemble Musikfabrik projects, with the idea of a bass clarinet solo regularly in the back of our minds.

The question often surfaced of the feasibility of finding close-interval dyads for bass clarinet similar to those used on the clarinet in A for Stirrings Still. The relatively sparse selection available on the bass clarinet seemed a problem until it was augmented by other dyads obtained by aiming ‘between’ the second and third registers. The result is a series of major sixths of subtly different intonations – the effect is acoustically unsurprising but musically attractive, and responsible both in its euphony and its necessarily restrained dynamic profile for a large part of Caerulean’s sound-world, especially when combined in trills, double trills and a pivotal ‘double double trill’ (a trill between two double trills) which recurs throughout. Equally important was Saunders’ question of what happens when these sounds, only stable in pianissimo, are pushed into fortissimo – it was perhaps the answer to this question that ultimately provided Rebecca with the necessary stimulus to turn a catalogue of sounds into a piece.

In April 2013 I performed a solo concert at the University of Huddersfield, as part of a brief residency. As is normal on such occasions, the concert programme included two new works by senior students, of whom Chikako Morishita was one. It is also normal on such occasions for works to arrive relatively close to the deadline. At the beginning of February, a modest 14-bar draft version arrived, but Morishita would eventually discard this completely – what arrived about two weeks before the concert was an epic solo work in five movements, full of cross-references, with a duration at the premiere of 18 minutes (at the time, as long as any solo work in my repertoire). The title of Skin, Gelatine, Soot springs from the image of Japanese calligraphy on skin, Morishita speculating on what memories the animal- and vegetable-derived substances involved in the process might bring with them from their former existences.

Skin, Gelatine, Soot:

Brian Ferneyhough’s Time and Motion Study I commenced life as a piece for clarinet in Bb, along similar lines to his early flute solo Cassandra’s Dream Song (1970), in which a sequence of fragments in fixed order alternates with a second sequence of fragments whose order in performance is determined by the player. This first version was never completed, but when Harry Sparnaay requested a solo work from Ferneyhough some years later, Ferneyhough returned to the sketch. As even a cursory comparison of Cassandra’s Dream Song with such scores of the intervening period as Unity Capsule and Time and Motion Study II shows, Ferneyhough’s language had changed so drastically in the meantime that a simple completion of the sketch would have been unthinkable. (Yes, Time and Motion Study II was indeed completed before Time and Motion Study I – and Time and Motion Study III before either.) The partially free form of Cassandra’s Dream Song was discarded, but the alternation of texture types remains in the final work’s contrast of motoric passages with freer, recitative-like sections; free changes in trill speed in the original became precise gear changes of 10-11-12-13-14 notes per beat, with overlaid accent patterns derived from the Fibonacci series. As the title suggests, the physicality of performance is a parameter in its own right (in any case a feature of Ferneyhough’s work, in the 1970s in particular): not only in the cumulative effort of performance, but in such subtler instances as the contrast of relatively straightforward passages at high speed with passages where extended single pitches are performed with multiple accretions of accents and changes of timbre.

Carl Rosman is an Australian clarinettist.

Rosman studied with Phillip Miechel in Melbourne, then with Peter Jenkin at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. He has performed in Europe, Asia, Australasia and both North and South America as a soloist.

He is closely associated with composers such as Brian Ferneyhough, Michael Finnissy, Richard Barrett, Chris Dench and Liza Lim, as well as frequently performing such composers as Pierre Boulez, Helmut Lachenmann and Vinko Globokar. He is also a conductor and co-director of the ensemble Libra, as well a member of the ELISION Ensemble. He also often performs works involving singing and spoken text; Richard Barrett’s work Interference exploits both his vocal and clarinet-playing abilities, and he gave the premiere of Aaron Cassidy’s work for solo voice, I, purples, spat blood, laugh of beautiful lips. He has also performed concerts featuring nineteenth-century melodrama works for speaker and piano, notably with pianists Mark Knoop and Ian Pace and sung lieder by Schubert and Schumann. He has recorded for ETCETERA, NMC, and ABC Classics. He has also written on music for periodicals.

He lives in Cologne where he is a member of the ensemble musikFabrik.