Clarinet Quintet was commissioned by Christopher Marshall for his chamber music series “Christopher’s Classics” in 2006. It was written for Gretchen Dunsmore, clarinet, and The New Zealand String Quartet, for a premiere performance on September 13, 2006. The composition was also written as part of the composer’s work at The University of Otago. The point of departure in this work is Mozart, in the year of his 250th anniversary. Motivic ideas are derived from the opening melody of his Clarinet Quintet, using a magic square to transform the pitches. No direct reference is made to the Mozart theme until the third movement, which is more diatonic in character.
The first movement begins mysteriously, with a clarinet solo interspersed with rustlings from the strings. This solo contains the seeds for the entire movement, which is fast, lively and angular, following the slow introduction. A more moody and edgy middle section gradually builds up to a climax near the end of this movement. Contrasting with this is a slow middle movement that opens with a simple and bold statement on the strings. Over the top of this the clarinet plays a lamenting melody. The first four notes are a quotation from the composer’s opera The God Boy (Mrs Sullivan’s motif) signifying anxiety and guilt. A slightly calmer middle section is free in tonality, and builds up strongly in intensity, followed by an abridged return to the opening. The finale is a ‘moto perpetuo’ movement in which the diatonic opening idea is undermined by subtle tensions in the music. Although it is fast-paced and lively, it is also weary and uneasy in tone. A rousing final section leads to a quiet, fading coda, as the life in the music is gradually exhausted.
Commissioned by Christopher Marshall for 'Christopher's Classics' concert series 2006 and written for Gretchen Dunsmore and the New Zealand String Quartet