Orchestral Excerpts for the Clarinet: a teaching guide
Introduction Orchestral excerpts are among the most important things to teach the career-minded clarinet student because one of the most common way to make a living as a clarinettist today is by playing in an orchestra. In order to be hired, one must first posses the ability to play the instrument well, and the most common choice of music at an orchestral audition to demonstrate this is orchestral excerpts.
When teaching orchestral excerpts to clarinet students it is important to teach from two distinct angles: how to play the excerpts in an orchestral rehearsal or performance, and how to play the excerpts at an audition. Often one will play them the same in both situations, but occasionally one must tailor one's performance to the situation.
In the summaries that follow I will attempt to point out ways to assist the student in performing the pieces from both a technical and musical standpoint, discuss the current performance practice of these pieces, and highlight trouble spots, common pitfalls, and passages of particular interest to an audition committee.
I believe that the order in which one teaches the excerpts should be tailored to the individual situation and student, but for the purposes of this paper, I will assume that one is teaching an undergraduate freshman at a university whom one expects to have for the next four years. Freshman are unlikely to grasp the complete musical significance of Beethoven and Brahms right away. However, I recommend starting with the most common pieces to be performed in a quasi-chronological order. When the student is older and preparing for an audition, teachers will be re-visiting many of the pieces already studied. The student should then have the musical sophistication to understand the music, and will already be fundamentally familiar with the pieces. While the excerpts are initially listed by commonalty with relation to their appearance on auditions, I recommend that for the long-term, one teaches the excerpts in the order in which they are discussed.
Finally, listening to the pieces is of utmost importance to proper performance either in the orchestra or at an audition, and whenever possible orchestral parts should be used for study instead of excerpt books.
Most common first clarinet parts asked for auditions Key: t = technical
tt = technically difficult
ttt = technically very difficult
m = musical (slower, phrasing more important)
mm = musically difficult
mmm = musically very difficult
Class #1 - On virtually every audition Beethoven: Symphony #6 - mvmt. 1 (t, mmm), 2 (m) , 3 (tt)
Tchaikovsky: Nutcracker Suite (t, m), Suite #4 "Mozartiana" (tt in "c")
Verdi: La Forza del Destino Overture (m)
Weber: Der Freischutz Overture (m)
Second Clarinet - in order of comminality Mendelssohn: Midsummer Night's Dream - Scherzo (tt)
Ravel: Daphnis and Chloe Suite #2 (ttt)
Tchaikovsky: Symphony #5 - mvmt. 1 (m)
Ravel: Rhapsodie Espagnole (tt)
Bartok: Concerto for Orchestra (t)
Berlioz: Symphony Fantastique (t)
Smetana: Moldau (t)
Stravinsky: Firebird Suite (1919) (ttt)
Eb Clarinet -in order of comminality Strauss: Till Eulenspiegel (ttt)
Berlioz: Symphony Fantastique (tt)
Ravel: Daphnis and Chloe Suite #2 (ttt)
Ravel: Bolero (m)
Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring (m, t)
Shostakovich: Symphony #5 (t)
Shostakovich: Symphony #6 (ttt)
Copeland: El Salon Mexico (t)
Ravel: Piano Concerto in G (tt)
Prokoviev: Symphony #5 (t)
Bass Clarinet Grofe: Grand Canyon Suite (tt)
Ravel: Daphnis and Chloe Suite #2 (ttt)
Strauss: Don Quixote (t,m)
Ravel: La Valse (m)
Strauss: Till Eulenspiegel (tt)
Wagner: Tristan and Isolde - Prelude and Liebestod (mm)
William Schuman: Symphony #3 (ttt)
Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring (tt)
Mozart - Symphony No. 39 in Eb major K. 543
This symphony is an excellent introduction to orchestral excerpts for many reasons: most clarinet students are already familiar with Mozart because of the concerto, it is neither technically nor musical difficult, and it is a common audition and performance piece - especially for orchestras made up of younger players. While only the trio of the menuetto is ever asked for at auditions, I recommend studying the entire piece because it is engaging, and it provides proper perspective on the solo. The eight bar phrase that comprises the clarinet solo in the trio is a simple question and answer. Play elegant and expressive skips (especially the C - Bb) while keeping the tempo. The phrasing should not be too complex: I recommend moving to the third bar of each four bar sub-phrase, then away. You may vary this to your taste to make it more interesting.
Beethoven All of Beethoven's symphonies are staples of the repertoire, appearing in concerts by professional as well as student groups. Many different ideas exist about interpretation in Beethoven. After studying Beethoven with many people (in particular, conductor Otto-Werner Müller), I am a strong believer in a few things. First, Beethoven's dynamic scheme consisted of only four levels: f, p, ff, and pp - mp and mfdo not exist in Beethoven symphonies! You should therefore divide the dynamic scale you can achieve on your instrument into four equal parts. This means there is a lot more dynamic range to a Beethoven piano or forte, then to a Mahler piano or forte, and you can add considerable expression to each phrase without going outside of the marked dynamic. This also means that forte is exactly halfway between piano and fortissimo, and should be played accordingly, and not too strongly, unless of course the music (or conductor) demands it. This leads to: Second, Beethoven often writes f before the climax of a phrase is reached - therefore you should not stop your crescendo just because you see the marking. Third, Beethoven sometimes abbreviated sforzando with sf and sometimes with only f. Some of the best examples of this can be seen in the second movement of the ninth symphony after letter "A" where you have a f at the beginning of each of sixteen bars in a row. Familiarity with Beethoven's works will make it obvious whether f indicates a forte or a sforzando. Lastly, Beethoven has provided us with metronome markings for all the pieces, and these are almost universally followed by all ensembles.
Symphony No. 1 in C major Op. 21
This symphony, and Beethoven's 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 7th, and 9th symphonies almost always appear on auditions only when included in the requirement to prepare "all Beethoven Symphonies". The first symphony contains no solos of note for the clarinet. However, there are a few passages to study more closely. There is the short solo after E in the first movement - listen to how the grace note (which is usually played on the beat) has been played up until then and imitate it. Discussion with the conductor may change the way you play it. In the third movement Trio, second strain, the clarinet is at the top of the chord. Be sure to start strongly enough to allow for a suitable decrescendo. In the last movement, insert slurs over two notes as needed to be able to play the articulated runs as fast as the strings. The best place for the slurs is on the 4th-5th notes of the run.
Symphony No. 2 in D major Op. 36 The second movement of this symphony contains quite a bit of exposed clarinet solos, including the primary statement of the theme. The trill should be done tastefully and with only 5 or 7 notes. The crescendo should also be tasteful, and should near a f before the subito p. Keep in mind Beethoven's dynamic scheme and things will be expressive without being blatant or gross. Intonation with the Bassoon is very important in this movement, and should be checked before the first rehearsal. The sforzandos should be played as pressure accents rather than as stingers (as they often are in the faster movements). The other movements of this symphony have very little that is exposed or difficult for the clarinet.
Symphony No. 3 in Eb major "Eroica" op. 55
Beethoven balanced his orchestrations very well for the orchestras that played his music. Today it is common practice to play with a full string section, which is four times the size of Beethoven's, and not double the winds. This creates obvious balance problems, which are particularly troublesome in "Eroica". In this symphony, like the first, the clarinet has little of major importance. The solos are fleeting and not difficult, the first of which is at the beginning of the Allegro con brio. This solo is in octaves with the horn and flute, and is the second statement of the main theme. There is much to play as part of a woodwind trio or quartet in this piece, and sometimes the clarinet line may be easily lost in the texture due to register. Do your best to avoid this. A good example is mvmt. 1 measures 57-61. One tricky spot to be ready for is when the whole orchestra drops out in mvmt. 2, measure 47 leaving you alone for two beats. Another spot of near-aloneness is the beginning of the coda of the scherzo. In the last movement, after letter C, you will have to play this passage as loudly as possible - it is basically the clarinets against the rest of the orchestra. The accompaniment figure in measures 367-74 should be played slightly separated and bouncy - you are the only one playing this figure. Later, the second clarinet has a similar solo.
Symphony No. 4 in Bb major Op. 60
The fourth symphony of Beethoven has many long exposed passages for the clarinet and the second movement solos occur on nearly every audition. The first movement finds solos at letter C and after H that are thematically the same. Follow the general line of the phrase up and down dynamically, and avoid having the downward 7th in the fourth bar of the recap. solo wreck this line. Play the legato lines as legato as possible and the short notes very short. This seems self-evident, but this movement is an exercise in contrasting note lengths and playing extremes here is better.
The second movement's first solo is really a duet in octaves with the flute beginning in measure 10. The meandering line of the phrase is continuous for the next seven bars, and if one weren't playing a clarinet, one wouldn't breath at all. Try to mask your breaths, and play the seven measures as if they were one phrase (as they are). I recommend breathing after the bottom E in bar 12, and again two bars later after the long G. If you need another breath, take it after the E in the next bar. Discuss breathing and phrasing with the flute player prior to the first rehearsal if possible. You may stagger your breaths or phrase them together - neither is more correct. Letter B is a true solo, over the top of pizzicato strings. The phrasing is more or less the same as letter F, which is the main audition passage (because it is higher and therefore more difficult), so I will discuss only letter F.
Start the solo at letter F very softly, even though it is only p, because you will be heard no matter how softly you play over the strings, and you will then be able to make more expressive crescendos. Cantabile is the key word for this passage. Drive toward the Bb in measure 2, make it expressive (possibly with a subtle <>) come away dolce on the sixteenth notes and fade out on the down beat. Do not play the C overly long! If the conductor is sensitive, you will be able to add a little retinuto for the sixteenth notes. If you would like to do the same rubato in an audition, you risk the possibility of the committee thinking the rest that follows is either too long or too short. If you don't do the rubato, you run the risk of sounding boring. Often, second-guessing a committee is a lose-lose situation: do what you want. Slur into the C in measure 3, and play the Db with the two side keys. The strings have a regular rhythm at this point, so no more rubato is allowed, and you must NOT be late on your entrances. In an audition, the whole committee will be subdividing in their heads to see if you can count rests - so be precise. Take a small breath or none at all before the next passage, so as to disturb your body as little as possible. This helps you to maintain the placement of high notes in your mouth, mind, lips etc., and eases the entrance of the D. Try to enter on the D both softly and solidly - this note is the whole reason for this exerpt to even be on an audition. Play the motive expressively - this is also important to show the committee that you are not scared by the passage, but are comfortable with it. Take a huge breath and play the next motive in answer to the previous, but land on the A very softly to make the crescendo. The C can be stretched and G shortened ever so slightly, but do NOT be late to the A. I recommend a small dim. and tenuto on the C with a little dip in the phrase going to the G. This creates a loop effect in the phrasing of the motive. All of this intricacy on two notes contrasts nicely with a slow, steady crescendo on the A. During the crescendo, think not of getting louder, but of getting nearer or bigger to about the level of a Beethoven f. This will help you keep your tone even as you change dynamics. The subito piano comes on the downbeat of the next measure, not on the G. This subito may be used to create another "loop" phrasing to turn the musical direction around. If you absolutely must, take a quick breath after the F. Play a real 32nd-note at the end of this measure ,neither a sixteenth nor a 64th. Diminuendo to the 32nd-note C and play as softly as you can. This crescendo should be quite large. You are joined gradually by the rest of the orchestra during this note, so be sure you are still heard as the primary voice as they enter. You may breathe after the downbeat of the next measure. Play graceful and legato triplets. After leading to the Bb from the A play a slight dim. at the very end of the measure leading to the p marked on the F in the next measure. Play a full (but not longer) 8th note and release. Adhere to Beethoven's tempo and do not to play too slowly at an audition.
Letter E is a reprise of the opening duet, with a variation. Be precise with your rhythm on the triplets, and make the sf as pressure accents. G is another reprise followed by arpeggios traveling through the orchestra. Follow the line of notes dynamically and pretend to play the first note of the flute's (after your last note) - this will help you to hand off your line well.
The Scherzo presents little solos with no problems. The last movement, on the other hand, has some quite difficult passages. At letter A, the alberti accompaniment solo must be played loudly enough to be clearly heard, and staccato. The sixteenth note solo is an excellent reason to learn to double tongue. While not marked with a dynamic, a Beethoven p is appropriate. In an audition, you may play the passage as slow as 152 to the quarter-note, if you can tongue it all. Otherwise, add a slur or two (or three or four) for two notes and play it at 160. The first place to add a slur is from the C before the grace note to the D after it. This slur is extremely well masked by the grace note. The next place to add is preferable at the end of the passage, going from D to C in the final measure. It is likely that you will be able to start at tempo and tire as the passage progresses, so adding slurs at the end is preferable. Doing this enables you to remove them at the last instant in performance if you don't need them. Other good spots are from the C to the B at the beginning of the second measure, and from the top A to G in the third measure. Be sure to play the pp as a subito, and the ff as well. In auditions, the excerpt usually ends after the first note of the ff.
Symphony No. 5 in c minor Op. 67 This most well known of Beethoven's symphonies has a few nice clarinet parts, but finds its way to auditions rarely. The first clarinet solo is at measure 67 in mvmt. 1. Do not drag or be late. The cadence is on the D in measure 70, so a nice little cresc. leading to it is appropriate, as well as a little dim. away from it. In measure 130, the two clarinets are alone for this motive, and should be in perfect time. The entrance is easy to be late on, and it's often hard to play the right dynamic, articulation and intonation here. Do not try to play overly soft unless asked to, and it will be easier.
The second movement finds the bassoon and clarinet in often in octaves for many little solos once more. The solo 7 measures before A is thematically important. Play the 32nd-note metrically correctly, and do not play the two Bbs as a unit - between them is where the phrase breaks a little, the second note leading towards the quarter note. The same applies to the motive whenever presented again in this piece. The solo after A is a great place to show how many different colors you can make on one note. Start with a healthy f. You may choose to start the note with only air and no tongue to avoid a hard attack, but do not ease into it or be late. As you approach piano, you can take all color out of your tone, and gradually add it back over the next three bars - this allows you to be expressive without crescendoing. The real cresc. starts as you move into the F#. Play legato intervals and drive to the suspended downbeat of measure 55. Break slightly after the G and re-attack the F. If you absolutely need a breath, it can be taken here. The rest of the woodwinds join you at the f. Be sure to make a nice subito surprise at the end of the phrase on the D. At measure 107 try to match the articulation the bassoon does, unless you have strong feelings about the way it should go (conductors usually do about this passage). If you do, discuss it with the bassoonist ahead of time. A variety of lengths can be used here, and all have their merits. During the solo/sectional passages after the fermata it is important to not play to vertically - make space after the eighth-notes, but do not let it destroy the line. In measure 166, you and the bassoon have to play short notes in a long line without rushing or dragging - this is difficult but important to do. Play the eighth and quarter-notes very long - almost out of time, and the short notes very short. Think the meter in a slow one, and you will keep the proper line in your phrasing. Play measures 177-79 very legato, even when you re-articulate the B in 178. 185 is another balance problem, and you must play as loudly as possible. The coda solo in beginning in 229 should be played pp and very dolce - you will be heard. A little loop and dim. on the last dotted 16th/32nd up to the high Bb is quite nice to do, and it sets you up to make a huge cresc over the next 9 measures.
It is good to have the beginning of the scherzo memorized so that you may watch the conductor and play the solo with him. This is a hard spot for them, and they will be quite upset if they don't see your eyes and/or you are not together with them. The short As that you play at the end of the movement should be as short and soft as possible. Play them a little louder if you have to, rather than longer. It's OK to sound pecky here - you're imitating a very short pizzicato. The only thing of importance in the last movement is the reprise of the scherzo where the clarinets play a duet. Be bold, and don't shy away from the dissonance. Imitate the phrasing this passage had in the scherzo when played by the f horns.
Symphony No. 6 in F major Op. 68
This is the most popular piece to have on any clarinet audition and presents new challenges to every clarinettist each time they refine their ability and standards. In the first movement, you have a few little solos before the main audition one. Despite not being the melody, some conductors will insist that you play loudly in the 8 bars leading up to B. If you can get away with it, defer to the 'cello melody in this passage. Four bars before D should be played sprightly. Legato slurred notes, short staccatos, a general <> for the two bar motive, and a slight accent on the D all help this passage come alive. Take a cue from the oboe for phrasing, as they play similar thing many times in this piece before you do. During the solo that begins in measure 426, it is good to play dolce for most of the time. A wonderful exception is to make the skip of a 6th and the three notes that follow it in measure 429 espressivo with a little swell upwards through the triplet and more legato notes. You may even be able to stretch them slightly, because you can steal time from the longer G. Hand off to the oboe well at the end of this passage.
The solo that starts at letter K is on almost every audition, and sometimes they want you to play the two measures before K to set the tempo - I prefer this. The embellished stepwise sequence up (B, C, D) should be followed dynamically, without destroying the subito f. Play each motive with identical nuance, and be absolutely precise about the placement of the sixteenth-notes. It is a common error to play them too quickly an the eighth too long. You may lead into the f with the last two notes before it. The whole orchestra plays the next arpeggio with you every time, and in performance, you may drop out here to catch a breath if you need to. Play all the triplets fairly short and bouncy. Show the phrase in measures 480-2, by making the second note of each measure a new beginning leading towards the next measure. The next few measures should be played the same way, but are easier because they are f. Play each repetition more strongly than the last, and reach your climax in measure 488, where you immediately start a dim. The main thing the committee listens for in this passage (aside from absolute precision) is a real dim to a real pp without getting slower or playing longer notes. This is difficult and requires much practice, but is worth the effort. Little accents on the low B each time can help. In performance conductors may slow down or even do this whole passage in a slower tempo. You cannot anticipate this preference at an audition and I recommend playing it at the written tempo of 126.
The solo at the end of the second movement is even more common on auditions then the first movement solo. The solo in bar 7 is in octaves with the bassoon, and the phrasing is similar to the last solo. The one difference of note is the fp in bar 12: crescendo up to the f and play a very sudden p without sounding harsh. The solo at letter D is often heard on auditions with the bar before D, so that you may more directly indicate your tempo to the committee. Make a nice swell in this bar - up and back, with the Bb as the high point. This solo is heard primarily to catch you not counting your rests in the proper tempo. Subdivision is extremely important. In a way, listening for that makes no sense, because in performance, with the conductor beating and the strings playing running sixteenth-notes, it is very hard to play too early or late. Each of the three entrances bordered by rests should be done with a little swell surrounding the appogatura eighth-note. Try to keep the line through the rests if you can. Do not hold the quarter note overly long - fade it out exactly in time (this helps you stay accurate during the rests). The grace notes can be played a few ways, but I recommend against articulating them. I prefer to play the last two sixteenth-notes preceding them and the three grace-notes as a unit of 5 notes. I also play this unit slightly across the bar line, so that I am a little late to the down beat. This is OK, because you can make up the time on the long notes, and as long as you end in time, you will not destroy the line. Playing them this way gives you a little more time to play them gracefully. If you prefer, you may play all 5 more quickly and reach the eighth-note F on time. The pick ups to measure 73 are the last in the sequence of four entrances, and the harmony finally moves to a cadence. Help show this by a nice blossoming crescendo to the C. Come down dynamically on the arpeggio, and play the following phrase (which is an embellishment of what you've just played) similarly, ending at a nice piano. The grace notes should be played at the approximate speed of triplet sixteenth-notes (comprising the length of an eighth-note in total), a little faster is OK, but not too fast or they are ungraceful. Take a huge breath before the grace-note in bar 74 (it's the last you may have in the excerpt), play the grace-note barely shorter than a sixteenth-note, and start this all piano. Cresc. through the next bar to the subito in the bar after. During this bar of 24 sixteenth-notes, a little nuance/rubato can be done during the half-step from B to Bb. Try to show the relationship over the bar of C to B to Bb to A at the top of the arpeggios. It is common to slow down at the end of the last arpeggio, but by no means is it necessary. Reach the lower end of a Beethoven f by the end, and play a nice piano in the next bar. You may be more contrasting at an audition, because you are not trying to cut through a thick orchestration. Watch out for rushing in this bar, as the articulation makes you want to move ahead. At the subito, a little phrasing to follow the line is nice, or to go contrary is nice. If you can play a nice pp high D, do the contrasting. Hesitating after the D slightly is a nice effect. The eighth-notes should be shortish, but not pecky (but not mooshy either), with lots of space between them. If you need a breath here, take one after the lower D, and play the spaces between the notes large enough, so that your breath space is no larger. You may slow down and slightly lengthen on the last two notes a little to set up the trill. I like to begin long trills like this slowly and accelerate the trill. Others like to play them all fast. Be true to yourself, because you will be bound to offend someone on the committee no matter what you do (and I believe this is a good approach to all such decisions regarding an audition - don't try to second-guess a committee unless you are certain that the conductor is there and insists on hearing a particular passage a particular way.) However you play the trill, crescendo through it and stay heard over the thickening orchestra. Pretend to play the resolution, but do not, and you will phrase the end properly. The rest of the movement is not heard at auditions, but the Coo-coo bird motive in bar 131 should be played very short and pecky, and in perfect time with the oboe.
The third movement is rarely heard at auditions. The solo starts with three notes out of the blue answering the oboe in measure 114. Play dolce and with a dim up to and through the D. Measure 122 is played in the same vein, but starting with the second beat of bar 123, you are in a new statement of the theme. There is no time to make a break with tempo, so you must set this new phrase apart from the previous one with dynamics. Play the four notes previous to this p, and abruptly start the new phrase (on the D) with a healthy mp. Accent the tied notes over the next three barlines for a nice swing - remember, this is peasant music. Climb dynamically to the long note, but still save a lot for the monster cresc that follows. Drive all the way to the bottom, and then play a big subito p. The G must be soft, but loud enough to be heard - especially at an audition. If you are playing in a boomy hall during you audition, you will not have the usual acoustical padding of an audience and may have to tailor your performances a bit to suit. This subito p is a good case. You may have to play it louder to be heard in a boomy hall that is still reverberating from your crescendo to ff. Play the tempo indicated if you can articulate all the notes, or maybe as slow as 100. Otherwise, add a slur somewhere - I recommend form the A to the F# in bar 132. The solo at letter B is never on auditions. Play it in a nice meandering, peasant dolce - you've heard this theme a number of times at this point - play it in a similar fashion. Accent the tied Gs a bit to show the syncopation.
The last two movements are also never on auditions. The short pleading solo of mvmt. 4 is a chance to put as much expression as you can into only three notes. I like to play the second set of three both piu ppandpiu espressivo - this avoids a cheesy echo effect. You may play the second entrance more strongly if you like. The clarinet opens the fifth movement (after the storm). Play simply. Drive to the bar line at the beginning of bar four and back away from it. You may be able to push and pull the tempo ever so slightly along with the dynamic - I think this helps the phrasing.