The Kennedy Center

Clarinet Concerto

About the Work

Einojuhani Rautavaara Composer: Einojuhani Rautavaara
© Richard Freed

Untitled Document

Rautavaara's Clarinet Concerto, commissioned for Richard Stoltzman by Theodore H. Friedman and Tamar Lieberman in memory of their mother, Mary Kerewsky Friedman, with support from the International Arts Foundation, was composed last year and is receiving its world premiere performances in the present concerts.

In addition to the solo clarinet, the score calls for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets and bass clarinet, 2 bassoons and contrabassoon, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, marimba, vibraphone, tom-tom, tam-tam, tubular bells, harp, and strings. Approximate duration, 25 minutes.

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In his early twenties, Einojuhani Rautavaara received direct and meaningful encouragement from Jean Sibelius which some commentators have viewed as a symbolic "passing of the torch." Today Rautavaara is the pre-eminent Finnish composer of his generation; well beyond the age at which Sibelius laid down his pen, he continues to be one of the most active composers, as well as the most respected, in his remarkably musical country. Like Sibelius before him, he has achieved this status entirely on his own terms, developing a distinctive personal style unlikely to be mistaken for anyone else's. In sorting out the various influences to which he responded at one time or another, he devised a musical language that is direct in its expressiveness and frequently touched with fantasy or a sort of unpretentious mysticism. He believes, "though some people smile at the concept," that "compositions have a will of their own," that they exist in "another reality," awaiting the composer who will bring them into the world in one piece."

In addition to his symphonies (eight so far), his numerous concertos and other concert works, Rautavaara has been active in creating works for the lyric stage. The one-act operas The Myth of Sampo and Marjatta the Lowly Maiden are based on episodes in the Finnish national epic the Kalevala, with librettos of his own. He was his own librettist also in most of his subsequent full-length operas, among them Thomas (whose central character is the 13 th -century Bishop of Finland who organized the Livonian Knights of the Sword for the massive assault on Novgorod in 1240 which ended with their overwhelming defeat in the Battle of the Neva River at the hand of the young Russian commander who became known from that time as Alexander Nevsky) and Vincent, about the painter Vincent van Gogh. (From the latter score Rautavaara drew the materials for his Sixth Symphony, whose movements bear titles relating to the artist's work and surroundings. His most recent opera, Aleksis Kivi (on the great Finnish literary figure), was introduced at Savonlinna in 1997 and subsequently presented in France, Italy and (in an English translation) Minneapolis. Under way now is an opera about the charismatic Russian monk Grigory Rasputin, commissioned by the Finnish National Opera and scheduled for its premiere next September.

Rautavaara's American ties began nearly 50 years ago and have grown conspicuously stronger in the last decade. In 1954, the year he received his master's degree from the Sibelius Academy (where his principal teacher was Aarre Merikanto), A Requiem in Our Time, a work for brass ensemble which he dedicated to the memory of his mother, brought him first prize in the Cincinnati-based Thor Johnson Competition and soon took on the status of a classic in the international brass repertory. In 1955, on Sibelius's recommendation, he received a scholarship that brought him to America for further study; in that year and the following one he studied with Vincent Persichetti at the Juilliard School and with both Aaron Copland and Roger Sessions at Tanglewood. In 1977 he completed the score of his Violin Concerto in New York, advising that the final movement was influenced by his recollections of his earlier sojourn there and his general impressions of American life. More recently, his two latest symphonies were commissioned and introduced by American orchestras: No. 7, Angel of Light, by the Bloomington Symphony in 1995, and No. 8, The Journey, by the Philadelphia Orchestra in 2000. In the latter year also, the Minnesota Orchestra gave the premiere of the Harp Concerto it commissioned for its principal harpist, Kathy Kienzle, with Osmo Vänskä conducting. The National Symphony Orchestra performed two of his works earlier this calendar year--the Violin Concerto at the end of March, with Elmar Oliveira as soloist and Mikko Franck conducting; in June the Cantus Arcticus (a concerto for birds and orchestra) under Osmo Vänskä--and now presents its first Rautavaara premiere.

The composer has kindly provided the following note on the new work.

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The composition of the Clarinet Concerto was set in motion back in April 2000, when I visited New York to hear Wolfgang Sawallisch and the Philadelphia Orchestra perform my Eighth Symphony at Carnegie Hall. On that occasion I met my designated soloist Richard Stoltzman and representatives of the individuals and organizations that made the commissioning of the work possible. Later, when Dick Stoltzman made two visits to Helsinki, I was able to play and study the Concerto with him while still at work on it, and to discuss the emerging problems.

At the opening the atmosphere is dramatic (Drammatico [ma flessibile] ), the solo voice gradually rising up from orchestral eruptions. The horn suggests a cantabile theme which the clarinet starts to develop, making it more and more ecstatic. At the opening the relation between the solo and orchestra sounded almost aggressive, but now a common line has been found. Following a climax there is a cadenza whose latter part (in the old classical tradition) is left to the soloist to improvise. But his dark-voiced brother, the bass clarinet, joins in and leads the music back to cantabile. For a moment the music returns to the eruptions of the beginning, until the tranquil mood gets the upper hand and the movement closes peacefully.

The slow movement, Adagio assai, is a continuous poetic narration, in which melodic beauty is sometimes capable of telling us of deeper and more serious things than might be conveyed in any tempestuous drama. The finale, a speedy Vivace, returns to the dramatic world of the opening movement. There are rhythmically new variations of the motifs introduced in the first movement, now heard as virtuosic textures filled with action.

It is obvious that the co-operation with Richard Stoltzman in the creative stage was essential for dealing with the practical concerns arising from the many technically demanding passages. At the same time, the lyricism of the slow movement came about in a way through my delight in the exceptionally soft and expressive sound of his clarinet. It was on this account that I chose to dedicate the score "to Richard Stoltzman and the sound of his clarinet."

Einojuhani Rautavaara