Toward the Empyrean Heaven

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Toward the Empyrean Heaven
Urania Records
Audio CD
Catalog Number: 
LDV 14049
Number of discs: 
Release date: 

C.I.R.C.B. Library

Cardo, Stefano
Acquisition Year: 


Disc: 1
Track Work Movement title Instrument(s) Composer Year Duration Audio file
1. Romanze bass clarinet, piano Klughardt, August 1890 03:48
2. Élégie bass clarinet, piano Franchi, Cesar 1902 05:52
3. Duo de Concert clarinet, bass clarinet, piano Jeanjean, Paul 1904 07:49
4. Offertoire (Premiere) bass clarinet, organ Pillevestre, Jules 1890 02:51
5. Romance bass clarinet, piano Orlamünder, Johann 1889 04:58
6. Évocation bass clarinet, piano Petit, Alexandre-Sylvain 1897 04:53
7. Lied bass clarinet, piano Rasse, François 1911 04:53
8. Deepwood bass clarinet, piano Bennett, David 1937 05:50
9. Air bass clarinet, piano Saint-Saëns, Camille 1912 03:36
10. Bénédiction Nuptiale clarinet, bass clarinet, piano Bontoux, Daniel 1900 03:57
11. Phantasy Quintet op. 93 I. Allegro moderato bass clarinet, string quartet Bowen, York 1935 06:47
12. Phantasy Quintet op. 93 II. Allegro con spirito, non troppo bass clarinet, string quartet Bowen, York 1935 02:55
13. Phantasy Quintet op. 93 III. Allegro moderatoma più tranquillo bass clarinet, string quartet Bowen, York 1935 03:15

Music Information

The Romanze by August Klughardt (1847-1902) was one of the first pieces for bass clarinet published in Germany. Along with several other works, it was offered by C. F. Schmidt of Heilbronn around or before 1898, originally with orchestral accompaniment, as well as in the surviving version with piano accompaniment. Scarcely remembered today, Klughardt was a prolific composer who served as Kapellmeister for a number of years in Dessau. His music is firmly within the German romantic style, being strongly influenced by Schumann, Liszt, and Wagner. The stately and heroic lyricism of the Romanze is reminiscent of the music of Richard Strauss.

Élégie, published in Paris in 1902, is the only remaining trace left on the musical landscape by C. Franchi. Franchi, whose given name is now a mystery, dedicated the work to A. Pierre Sainte-Marie, one of the first known champions of the bass clarinet. Two other solo works and several pieces of chamber music composed with Sainte-Marie in mind are still extant today. Sainte-Marie performed with the orchestras of the Concerts Colonne and the Opera of Monte Carlo during the last years of the nineteenth century. Beyond the fact that he wrote the first method book for bass clarinet, which was published by Evette & Schaeffer in 1898, further details of Sainte-Marie’s life are unknown. Franchi’s Élégie conforms musically with Sainte-Marie’s concept of the bass clarinet, stated in the introduction to his method, as an instrument of “religious and solemn, rather than light and rapid character.” The work’s sweetly mournful tone is enlivened by dramatic leaps from the dark fullness of the instrument’s lowest range to the ethereal lightness of its altissimo register.

Duo de Concert, by Paul Jeanjean (1874-1928), was composed for Sainte-Marie and the renowned clarinetist Henri Paradis in 1904. Paradis, one of the most highly respected performers of his day, was the principal clarinetist of both the Paris Opera and the band of the Garde Republicaine. Eschewing the modernism of Debussy and Ravel, the Duo employs the post-Wagnerian romantic style typical of French opera at the time. Rather like a recitative and aria, the clarinet and bass clarinet begin by announcing the work’s principal theme together in octaves. Then their voices separate and offer commentary on each other’s statements before joining together as one at the piece’s end.

Jules Pillevestre (1837-1902), who conducted frequently at the Theatre de Vaudeville in Paris, was a prolific composer of music for winds. Several of his solo, duo, and trio pieces for piccolos, both piccolo flutes and piccolo clarinets are still heard occasionally in concert performances today. His Premier Offertoire of 1890 was the first ever solo work to be commercially published for bass clarinet. Its flowing melody, imbued with a solemn, otherworldly expression and its use of the organ as accompaniment make it suitable for performance in a devotional setting. The Offertoire bears the dedication “à mon ami Sallingue de l’Opéra ” and was probably first performed by him. The organ used in this recording, as well in the Bénédiction Nuptiale by Daniel Bontoux, was fabricated and restored by a team led by Pietro Pasquini using parts of an organ originally constructed toward the end of the Nineteenth century by Vittorio Ermolli of Varese, Italy. It is housed in the music hall of the Cascina Giardino in Crema, Italy.

Johann Orlamünder’s Romance was composed sometime before the fourteenth of October, 1889, the date of the composer’s death in Berlin. The year of his birth in 1815, his listed profession of Musikdirektor , and two other published works listed in Pazdirek’s Universal-Handbuch der Musikliteratur ... of 1904 are among the few other remaining traces of the composer’s life. The Romance, perhaps one of the earliest surviving solo pieces for bass clarinet, is nevertheless quite charming. It is an andante cantabile with an air of elegant, understated wistfulness.

Évocation, by Alexandre-Sylvain Petit (1864-1925), is an emotional recitative and aria, which looks well beyond the plane of everyday life toward a celestial realm. Without specific religiosity, it conforms to Pierre Sainte-Marie’s concept of the solemn nature of the bass clarinet and uses the instrument’s wide tessitura to dramatic effect. The piece was composed for Sainte-Marie and would appear to have been first performed with orchestral accompaniment. It was published by Evette & Schaeffer in Paris in 1897. Petit was the cornet soloist with the band of the Garde Républicaine, as well as a composer and professor at the Paris Conservatoire.

Lied, a gently flowing air in waltz time by the Belgian composer François Rasse (1873- 1955), is described in its title as a pièce de concours and perhaps was used as an examination piece for the bass clarinet at either the Brussels or the Paris Conservatoire. This seems unusual, however, as the bass clarinet was notconsidered to be an independent field of study at either institution. As a pièce de concours, Lied is also exceptional in that it does not provide the performer with a vehicle for display of virtuosic technical brilliance. It is dedicated to Louis Alphonse Bageard, who was professor of clarinet at the Conservatoire Royale in Brussels from 1904 until 1911. It seems likely that the work may have been composed during these years, but it was not published until 1921 by Evette & Schaeffer in Paris.

Deepwood, by David Bennett (1892-1990), differs from the other selections on this disc in three significant ways: it is by an American composer, it was intended to be used in an educational setting by students, and it is first and foremost a display of technical virtuosity. The piece allows the performer to demonstrate speed and fluency in the instrument’s lower register, both being issues of importance for a successful band musician. The charm of the piece lies in its sheer velocity, as well as the musicality of its performer. Bennett had a long and successful career as an arranger and composer in American commercial and band music.
His claim to fame with the wider public was his song composed in 1925, “Bye, Bye Blues,” which was a hit of the tap dance craze.

Alfred Piguet worked as an arranger for the French publishing firm Leduc during the early 20 th century. He made many arrangements of popular classical music for a variety of solo instruments with piano accompaniment. One of these, published in 1912, was the Air “O beaux rêves évanouis “ taken from Camille Saint-Saëns’ opera Étienne Marcel. The arrangement, which lists either soprano or bass clarinet as the intended instrument, is dedicated to A. Perrier. The possibility exists that Perrier, who was a professor of clarinet at the Paris Conservatoire, performed the work on bass clarinet. The aria, whose subject is beautiful yet faint dreams, has a solemn and exalted mood, making it particularly suitable to the prevailing concept of the bass clarinet at the time.

Daniel Bontoux (1872-1956), is known only by his three published works, all of which feature the bass clarinet. The first of these, Intermezzo, was published by Evette & Schaeffer in 1899 and was dedicated to Pierre Sainte-Marie. The Bénédiction nuptiale for clarinet, bass clarinet, and organ, which is included on this disc, and the Hymne à Sainte-Cécile, for a sextet of two Bb clarinets, alto clarinet, bass clarinet, contra-alto clarinet, and contrabass clarinet, were both published by Evette & Schaeffer in 1900. According to his great grandson, who is also a composer, Bontoux was a horn player in the Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte Carlo, where he was probably a colleague of Pierre Sainte-Marie. The Bénédiction is stately and sentimentally melodious, as might be expected of an instrumental interlude at a wedding.

The Phantasy Quintet, a composition in a three movements, by York Bowen (1884- 1961), is the definitive masterpiece of romantic chamber music for bass clarinet. Its sweeping lines, dark colors, and complex contrapuntal textures give the bass clarinetist an opportunity to show both technical virtuosity and expressive depth. Bowen, who was born in London to a family of whiskey distillers, was a child prodigy, performing on piano, viola, and horn. He took up composition at an early age, as well. His romantic style, with similarities to that of both Rachmaninoff and Delius, had fallen out of fashion by the years between 1932 and 1936, when the Phantasy Quintet was composed for the clarinetist and saxophonist Walter Lear. This rather obsolete style may account for the lengthy neglect of the quintet, which is perhaps the most significant piece of chamber music written for the bass clarinet before Josef Horak and Harry Sparnaay began to redefine the instrument and its place in the musical world.

© Thomas Aber

Album Information

We have ascended
From the greatest sphere to the heaven of pure light.
Light of the intellect, which is love unending;
love of the true good, which is wholly bliss;
bliss beyond bliss, all other joys transcending.

Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy: The Paradise XXX, 38-42
(Trans. by John Ciardi, 1970 The New American Library)

From its earliest days as a usable musical instrument the richly majestic tone of the bass clarinet has placed it in a category apart from other, perhaps more familiar, instruments. Its sonorous voice issued a summons to a sphere, whether celestial or infernal, beyond everyday existence. The bass clarinet began its orchestral career providing a particular dramatic effect in Parisian grand opera during the 1830s and since then has had consistent employment as a harbinger of supernatural, otherworldly mystery and as a portent of both death and the heavens beyond. Gradually during the course of the nineteenth and early twentieth century composers recognized that the rich sonorities of the bass clarinet could offer, however, a wide range of expression and they began, very occasionally at first, to compose for it as a solo instrument.

The selections on this disc are representative of a small, largely forgotten repertoire of solo and chamber pieces dating from the second half of the nineteenth century until the 1930s. The majority of the pieces on this disc have not previously been recorded. In keeping with the aesthetics of the period, these selections allow the profound voice of the bass clarinet, together with piano, organ, or string quartet, to produce a luminous sound and a musicality “full of bliss; a bliss which transcends all sorrow.“ ( Paradiso XXX, 40-42, by Dante Alighieri)

© Thomas Aber