Eric Mandat's Sound Worlds: Part II

The Compositions that Extended the Clarinet by Dr. Amanda Morrison

Date Posted: November 27, 2019

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Amanda Morrison is a Vandoren Artist-Clinician. The goal for the Vandoren Artist-Clinician program is to enhance the quality of the music experience through education and the assistance of Vandoren. These highly trained professional educators and performers will engage your students through educational and fun sessions. The clinics they conduct cover a broad spectrum of topics and, based on your input, can be customized to fit the needs of your students. Contact us today to arrange your free Vandoren clinic.

Welcome back for the second installment of “Eric Mandat’s Sound Worlds”, featuring the life and work of the legendary clarinetist and composer. Eric is widely recognized as a leading authority in clarinet extended techniques and has received numerous awards and honors for his compositional work, including compositional fellowships and artist residencies at the Ragdale Foundation and Brush Creek Center for the Arts. Throughout his fruitful career, he has travelled the world to perform his works and present lectures and master classes on extended techniques.

For over 35 years, Mandat has forwarded the capabilities of the clarinet and clarinetists with his experimental approach to composition. He has created a deeply personal compositional and performance style through the exploration and employment of extended techniques in his work. His body of work will, no doubt, define the capabilities of 21st century clarinetists.

This article installment will explore some of Eric’s groundbreaking solo clarinet and chamber works that have become staples in the contemporary clarinet repertoire. I hope you find the piece descriptions to be a useful guide in helping you program one of Eric’s pieces on your next program!

Tricolor Capers for Bb clarinet

This solo piece is a favorite of many! The premiere performance of Tricolor Capers (1980) was given by Eric Mandat at his Yale University Master’s degree recital on January 22, 1981. The piece is a manifestation of Mandat’s personal views on the 80’s; “an energetic and fast-paced time when people were focused on the acquisition of stuff and, like zombies, gravitating to the next craze.” “Portent”, the first movement, is saturated with quarter tones, microtones, and multiphonics. Mandat creates structure through perfect fifth/perfect fourth relationships and wide-ranging half step motions in the otherwise esoteric movement. The second movement, “Sway”, directly quotes “The Twilight Zone” television show theme song and contains quarter tones and microtones amidst two contrasting melodic ideas; drunken versus robotic. The third movement, “Bop”, is Mandat’s conception of American society “bopping along to whatever the next craze is.” The technically challenging bebop-style jazz movement is constructed with clear motives and double bar lines that define sections.

The three movements of Tricolor Capers are distinctly different in character and organized to not overwhelm the performer or listener with too many extended techniques, tonal shifts, or meter shifts at once. Mandat recorded the work on The Extended Clarinet on the Advance Recordings label.

Folk Songs for Bb clarinet

Folk Songs is a five-movement work born out of a composition class assignment during Mandat’s doctoral studies at the Eastman School of Music. The piece was premiered on Mandat’s final doctoral solo recital on May 1, 1986. Movement I “Spirited; as if from a distant Appalachian hill”, Movement II “Heavily with a fuzzy, focused, breathy tone”, and Movement III “Expansive; as if hurtling through space” are in typical classical structural forms but saturated with extended techniques such as humming while playing, quarter tones, microtones, and multiphonics.

Folk Songs is most noted for its fourth movement that calls for “fluting” the clarinet like an end-blown flute. Marked “With devotion, like a prayer”, the movement is melodically and harmonically simple so that the performer can focus on the color and pitch resembling a Japanese shakuhachi flute.

The final fifth movement completes the piece with flare. After a ‘bell in the air’ fanfare, the through-composed movement is marked “Like a Flamenco dancer with St. Vitus Dance.” Few extended techniques are used in the straightforward movement while the fast tempo, large leaps, syncopation, and technique constantly challenge the clarinetist and wows audiences. Eric Mandat recorded the piece on The Extended Clarinet on the Advance Recordings label and Gregory Oakes also recorded it on New Dialects on the Centaur Records label.

Enjoy this brilliant performance of Folk Songs by Vandoren Artist, Wesley Ferreira:

Rrowzer! for Bb clarinet

Rrowzer! was premiered by Mandat on June 16, 2005 at the Oklahoma Clarinet Symposium in Norman, Oklahoma. Eric recorded the piece on his Black Swirls CD recording on the Cirrus Music label.

The piece was inspired by an old grouchy dog and structurally modeled after Frederic Chopin’s Prelude Number 9 in E Major. Rrowzer! is built on the manipulation of a three-note motive and intervallic combinations of major seconds and minor thirds. The framework is constructed with cell repetitions and small segments of connecting material; allowing the performer to experiment with the number of cell repetitions that fits their aesthetic. While not as technically challenging as some of Mandat’s other works, it is a vibrant and exciting work that employs contrasting dynamics, vibrato, and extended techniques (quarter tones, microtones, and multiphonics).

Eric can be heard here playing his own composition, Rrowzer!:

Double Life for solo Bb clarinet (with extension) and A clarinet

Eric Mandat wrote Double Life to honor William O. Smith, the pioneer of contemporary clarinet techniques and a noted jazz artist, at the 2007 ClarinetFest in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Mandat felt it appropriate to write a piece for Smith that encapsulated his skills. To represent both the classical and jazz sides of Smith’s musical career, Eric thought the Double Life title seemed logical. The piece was premiered by Mandat at the convention on July 5, 2007. No commercial recording is currently available for this unique work.

The first movement, “Double Life”, is written for B-flat and A clarinets and juxtaposes short jazz phrases representative of Smith’s jazz side with slow two and three note cells characteristic of Smith’s classical work. As the music progresses, the clarinetist combines the two ideas; playing motives on both the B-flat and A clarinets simultaneously. That’s right! The clarinetist plays both instruments at the same time with the help of some strategically placed corks and a really, really strong embouchure! Because Smith always made clarinets smaller or larger than normal, the second movement “Deep Thoughts”, is written for B-flat clarinet and extension. The slow-paced movement passes through wide leaps, multiphonics, and undulations of pitches produced through leg movements over the joint holes of a PVC pipe extension. The movement is extraordinarily demanding as it challenges the performer to lyrically execute the technical challenges on an altered instrument. The fast, last movement for B-flat clarinet, “To Be Continued…”, is constructed with constant sixteenth-note patterns of conventional and unconventional fingerings that put one’s technique to the test. The movement represents the still active teaching and performing life of Smith, who has enjoyed a long and full career. For a fun tease, Mandat applies rhythmic and pitch material from Dave Brubeck and Smith’s popular jazz hit, Blue Rondo a la Turk to the spiraling technical passages. This movement adds a virtuosic finish to an already imaginatively stunning work!

Chips Off the Ol’ Block for solo Bb bass clarinet

Eric Mandat premiered Chips Off the Ol’ Block for solo Bb bass clarinet on a SIUC faculty recital on April 14, 1999. He recorded the piece on his Black Swirls CD on the Cirrus Music label, and it has become a favorite of bass clarinet enthusiasts across the globe.

The work is based on a collection of themes that develop but never fully evolve. After several small themes are presented, Mandat merges them into one “super motive” that morphs into a fiery mix of motivic fury! The piece constantly tests the clarinetist’s digital velocity, voicing abilities, and expression. Extended techniques used include multiphonics, overblown intervals, microtones, and flutter-tonguing. While the lyrical sections of the work are beautiful, the impressive qualities of the work lie in the demanding and exciting technical passages that challenge even the most skilled bass clarinetist.

Mandat performs Chips Off the Ol’ Block in this live performance:

So What Elsa’s New for two Bb clarinets

So What Elsa’s New? for two Bb clarinets was written for clarinet legends, Dr. Elsa Ludewig-Verdehr and F. Gerald Errante. It was premiered by Mandat and Errante at the Michigan State Contemporary Clarinet Festival in 1997. The work was composed with Verdehr and Errante’s energetic personalities and lives in mind; jazz elements incorporated for Errante and strong dynamics and “happy” sounding music to reflect Verdehr’s fervent presence.

With brisk tempos, crisp articulation, and a major key sound, the approximately 4 minutes long duet is high energy. Abrupt dynamic changes along with some semitones and one multiphonic add color contrast and surprise to the work. While the piece is technically friendlier than many of Mandat’s works, its whirlwind sections of sixteenth and thirty-second notes give the performers an opportunity to let their virtuosity shine. This duet has become a favorite of clarinetists looking to perform accessible and satisfying contemporary chamber music with their clarinet colleagues.

Ritual and Black Swirls for two Bb clarinets

Ritual, the duet for two Bb clarinets written in 2000 is a companion piece to Mandat’s duet, Black Swirls, that was written in 2004. Eric specifies that if the two pieces are played together, Black Swirls must follow Ritual without break. Of special note, Mandat provides optional theatric choreography or presents the option for performers to create their own movements to the music. The visual/movement component to the work can add special variety to a program.

Ritual progresses in a slow, rhythmic texture and soft, serene mood. Consonance and dissonance shape the musical lines while notes with unconventional fingerings contribute interesting tone color. In contrast to Ritual,Black Swirls is a technically intense work. The piece begins and ends with a fragmented dialogue between the two clarinets. Constant semitones with unconventional fingerings and numerous meter changes pose a challenge for even the most advanced players. With Black Swirls being fast paced and encompassing the whole range of the clarinet, good technique is an impressive must for the performers!

Music for Clarinets for solo Bb clarinet with clarinet ensemble (3 Bb, 2 bass, 1 contra in Eb)

Music for Clarinets was written between 1992 and 1994 and was premiered by Robert Spring at Arizona State University on November 5, 1994. The piece is in a standard three movement concerto form with the movements taking on standard classical forms. The solo part is technically virtuosic throughout the piece while the accompaniment parts are both technically and rhythmically challenging for most of the instruments. This work is for an advanced ensemble of players with a conductor.

Movement I, Concertino, demands technical command, strong rhythmic integrity, multiphonics, and the use of semi-tone fingerings from all parts along with extreme altissimo playing in the solo part. The movement alternates between a hauntingly unison section and a rhythmically fragmented, swinging groove that challenges the ensemble’s intonation and technical facility.

Interlude, the attaca second movement, continues the first movement’s haunting mood. The solo clarinet part intensifies as it climbs to the extreme altissimo and leads to a challenging cadenza full of multiphonics. A semi-tone filled, cadenza-like solo passage leads to the third movement rondo, Finale. This movement offers each player a highlighted role and a technical challenge. Of special note is the movement’s technical facility required of the bass and contralto clarinets. The musical setting is reminiscent of the first movement while the solo clarinet part utilizes the extensive range of the clarinet and improvises motives from earlier in the piece. The movement gives the soloist the opportunity to impress before a big, loud finish!

While the pieces included in this series installment have been widely embraced by the clarinet community as some of Eric Mandat’s most beloved compositional work, his creative output is extensive. If you are interested in reading more about Eric and his pieces, a descriptive catalog can be found as part of my doctoral treatise, “Eric Mandat: His Musical Life, a Performer’s Perspective of Preludes, Book 1 and Rrowzer!, and a Descriptive Catalog of His Published Clarinet Works (1980-2010).” Eric continues to express his unique and imaginative voice that innovates the clarinet world. Stay tuned for the final installment of this series in which I explore Mandat’s compositions of recent years and his current pursuits of improvisation and technology in performance.

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