We’ve listed the very best works for the woodwind powerhouse: from big concertos to unexpected little gems.
Copland - Clarinet Concerto
If you wanted a piece to display the incredible character of the clarinet, then this is the one. Placid and deeply reflective to begin with, then all of a sudden hugely acrobatic to end, Copland’s concerto sits so beautifully under the fingers.
Weber - Clarinet Concerto No. 2
Let us do you a favour. Go straight to the second movement of this total barnstormer of a concerto. Take your shoes off. Light a candle. Maybe get in the bath, if you’re in the mood. Now, this:
Brahms - Clarinet Sonata No. 2 in E flat
That opening melody, guys *literally falls to floor*. Doesn’t really need any more explanation than that, does it? Brahms was, as we know, ‘quite good’ with melody, and fortunately for clarinetists everywhere he kept one of his very best for the clarinet.
Bernstein - Sonata for Clarinet and Piano
Angular, dark and weird: this is Leonard Bernstein at his most intriguing. The melodies are definitely in there, but you have to dig them out, brush all the mud off them and then try and turn them into something attractive. And if you can manage the then, well, you’re in for a treat.
Gershwin - Rhapsody in Blue
Just because it doesn’t get any more iconic than this. Having said that, mess it up in a concert and no-one will forgive you. Ever. *loosens jaw for spectacular glissando*
Debussy - Premiere Rhapsodie
So the first phrase of this whole piece is a G to a B flat to a C, right on the throat of the instrument, which is just about the most annoying phrase you could possibly start on, technically speaking. But once you’re through that, you’re in for some serious magic realm-building. Effortlessly cool, dramatic and with a firework display at the end, it doesn’t really get much better than this for clarinet and piano.
Arnold - Sonatina for Clarinet and Piano
Rarely do composers do that whole ’so wrong it’s right’ thing better than Malcolm Arnold. Super-aggressive, choppy and violent in the beginning, a second movement that seems to stop time altogether, and a finale that is so close to being too much that you might just vomit. Unless you’re playing it, in which case you’ll just pass out.
Finzi - Clarinet Concerto
*low trill* *HIGH TRILL!* *low trill* *HIGH TRILL!* That’s about it, really. Nah, just kidding. Somehow Finzi manages to bend the pastoral with the highly flamboyant, and consequently it’s a concerto that defies categorisation. That first movement:
Shostakovich - Symphony No. 5
Just for a few moments in a symphony that pretty much defines the word ‘epic’, the clarinet line in the second movement breaks through and makes a hugely characterful interjection. And, like so many of the pieces on this list, it’s actually fun to play.
Poulenc - Sonata for Clarinet and Piano
Go straight for the second movement on this one. Weirdly tranquil, often troubling and not a little bit tricky to play properly, this is a subtle charmer for player and audience. Oh, and the first movement is properly bonkers.