Report by Zachary Dierickx
Bass Clarinetist Rocco Parisi, accompanied by pianist Jiung Yoon, gave an entertaining lecture recital titled “Bass Clarinet Yesterday and Today – Between New Technique and the Traditional” Saturday, August 6th, at 10:00 a.m. in the Inge Theater. The session began with a performance of Sonatine for Bass Clarinet and Piano by Alexis Ciesla, a piece written for Parisi specifically for this lecture. This exciting three-movement work made use of the full bass clarinet range and used extended techniques of double tonguing (called double staccato by Parisi) and slap tongue. The audience could not help but chuckle at the end of the work.
Parisi used this piece as a point of comparison to examine extended techniques and how composers write for the instrument. He began by exploring the range used in the piece – from low C to altissimo Eb. Interestingly, Ciesla only wrote in the highest range at pianissimo dynamic, which Parisi said sounds like the soprano clarinet. He contrasted this with Luciano Berio’s Sequenza in which the altissimo F is played at forte dynamic. These examples show that the dynamic range of the bass clarinet is massive, like the cello. The difference, however, is the key noise of the clarinet – very noticeable at soft dynamics. This is a factor that composers must consider when writing for the instrument.
Parisi then demonstrated the double staccato (double tonguing). He recommended the use of syllables “KA-ta,” with the stress applied to “ka.” As you stress this syllable, a more even double staccato can be achieved. He demonstrated this using Czardas by Vittorio Monti, impressively executing the quickly articulated passages. He also demonstrated the double staccato in Mozart’s Alla Turca to show how it brings out the sometimes comical nature of Mozart’s music. The slap tongue technique was then demonstrated, first in the Ciesla Sonatine second movement and then, unconventionally, in the Mozart Alla Turca. Here, Parisi played the left hand accompaniment with Yoon (piano) using the slap tongue technique, to the delight of the audience. Parisi felt that Mozart would have approved if he were to hear this. Importantly, he noted that the embouchure must not change to play the slap tongue.
A brief history of the bass clarinet followed. Parisi identified the first solo written for the instrument in 1836 when Saverio Mercadante called for the bass clarinet in an opera. This early predecessor to the modern bass clarinet was curved such that the bell was near the top, resulting in intonation issues. Adolphe Sax helped to influence the design of the instrument, moving the bell to the bottom where it is today. This greatly improved its intonation. Parisi then noted that Italian opera composers made frequent use of the bass clarinet, in particular Giuseppe Verdi. Famous passages were also given to the bass clarinet in Tristan und Isolde of Wagner and Pierrot Lunaire of Schoenberg. Parisi shared that the Schoenberg excerpt calls for a glissando, which was very difficult to execute on instruments of the time, but much easier on modern instruments.
The session ended with a question from the audience about how Parisi came to play the bass clarinet. In answering the question, he noted the importance of versatility in playing both soprano and bass clarinets.