The idea of a clarinet concerto for Kari Kriikku had been going round in my mind for some years. While I was composing my second opera (Adriana Mater, 2006) the clarinet part began to be increasingly soloistic, and I found the instrument was speaking to me in a new way. I set about planning a concerto but did not begin actually composing it until autumn 2009.
The form was inspired by six medieval tapestries, The Lady and the Unicorn, in which each tapestry depicts, with rich symbolism, the five senses and a ‘sixth sense’ – whatever that is (emotion? love?). I had already seen the tapestries in the Musée national du Moyen Age (the Medieval Museum) in Paris while seeking material for my first opera, L’amour de loin, and their richness also inspired the exhibition La Dame à Licorne I held with Raija Malka the artist in 1993.
The tapestries are named after the five senses, and I have titled the movements of my concerto accordingly: L'Ouïe (Hearing), La Vue (Sight), Le Toucher (Touch), L’Odorat (Smell), Le Goût (Taste) and the ambiguous A mon seul Désir, which could be translated as “To my only desire”. The name and subject matter of the sixth tapestry have been widely interpreted and examined. What interested me in particular was an article* about the meanings hidden in the letters of the name of the sixth tapestry. One of these is D’OM LE VRAI SENS. This is medieval French and alludes both to the senses and to the true meaning of humankind.
All this was, of course, just the initial impetus for composition. Using the names of the different senses as the headings for the movements gave me ideas for how to handle the musical material and for the overall drama. In the first movement (Hearing) the calmly breathing orchestra is interrupted by a call from the clarinet. ‘Sight’ opens up a more mobile landscape in which the orchestra gets into position behind the solo instrument to develop the musical motifs this supplies. ‘Smell’ is colour music. I associate the harmony with scent; it is immediately recognisable intuitively and the impression is too quick for thought. The clarinet languidly spreads its colour over the orchestra, where it hovers, transforming as it passes from one instrument to another.
In ‘Touch’ the soloist arouses each instrumental section in turn from the pulseless, slightly dreamy state of the previous movement. This is the concerto’s liveliest movement, and the most virtuosic in the traditional sense, and the clarinet and orchestra engage in a dialogical relationship. The fifth movement (Taste) is dominated by rough surfaces, tremolos and trills, which the clarinet serves to the orchestra around it.
While composing the last movement I experienced a sense of entering a new, intimate and timeless dimensionality. The end of a work is always the last chance to discover its quintessence. I often approach it by stripping the music down to its most ascetic elements. Here, too.
It came as a surprise even to me that the work began to come alive in its space, and that the clarinet – itself a unicorn – plays only some of its music in the soloist’s position. This appropriation of space became an inherent element of the work at the composition stage.
D’OM LE VRAI SENS is dedicated to Kari Kriikku, whose vast experience and frequent consultations were invaluable to me in composing the solo part.
NOTE FROM SCORE
The general idea of this piece is based on the famous medieval tapestries called La Dame à la Licorne.
The subject matter is the five senses and the ‘sixth sense’. These six tapestries give their names to the six parts of the piece, in the following order:
La Vue (Sight),
Le Toucher (Touch),
Le Goût (Taste),
A mon seul Désir (According to my desire alone).
Much could be said about the symbolism and metaphors in these artworks, as they are especially rich. More information can be found on the website of the Musée national du Moyen Âge, Paris (www.museemoyenage.fr), where the tapestries are exhibited.
In this composition the solo clarinettist adopts different positions in the hall. The general plan, to be adapted to suit different halls, is as follows:
Part I: L’Ouïe: the clarinettist is somewhere in the hall, among the audience or behind it, not to be seen, only heard.
Part II: La Vue: the clarinettist approaches the stage.
Part III: L’Odorat: the clarinettist plays behind the orchestra, on a podium if needed.
Part IV: Le Toucher: the clarinettist starts playing behind the orchestra and approaches the front of the stage.
Part V: Le Goût: the clarinettist sits in the middle of the orchestra or in front, on a podium if needed.
Part VI: A mon seul désir: the clarinettist stands in front of the orchestra and leaves the stage. The violin parts have also been written so that the musicians can leave their places, if wanted.