Commission: Daniel Silver and the University of Colorado Boulder
Premiere: Daniel Silver, Cavani String Quartet, Chamber Music Festival, Cleveland Institute of Music, November 30, 2005
Duration: 22 minutes
Instrumentation: Clarinet in A, string quartet
II. My white tears broken in the seas
IV. Moderato, Vivace
Quintet for Clarinet in A and String Quartet was commissioned by clarinetist Daniel Silver and the University of Colorado. The Quintet represents new compositional explorations for me using multiple compositional techniques and layering. The catalyst for this was 9/11. I was composing a work at that time which became one of anguish, bewilderment and sadness. There were other emotions I wanted to put into the music, but after a few tries I realized I had no idea how to do it. After more than a year of study and experimentation, including reading self-help books about verbal expression of anger, the first result was a song cycle called Declaration in which the texts and music deal with explosive emotions and sadness. Setting music to these words was a good first step. Composing purely instrumental music presented a greater challenge. But things in the world were bad and getting steadily worse. Frustrated, angry and despairing, I set out to reflect my view of this situation in the clarinet quintet. When I had finished the first two movements, Dan Silver and the Cavani Quartet, in residence together at that time and using the chance to learn these movements, previewed them in an informal concert setting. I knew how the first movement would sound, but when it was actually played I was not satisfied with the style. These wonderful musicians who would premiere the Quintet had learned this very difficult first movement, but agreed to discard it and learn an entirely new movement! For the second effort, the music became a complex expression with many layers, overlaying a 12-tone harmonic plan with tonal sonorities as well as Middle Eastern influences. It is sometimes assertive or aggressive, sometimes passionate, sometimes anguished, with jolts of anger and frustration. It is also a musical experiment to see whether cultures can keep and honor their own special heritage while respecting those of others, and whether the overlaying of different cultural influences can add to and enhance one another. There are short musical quotes: the line 'All men of tender heart, forgiving others…' from the (Christian) hymn, "All Creatures of Our God and King," and the line 'That in our darkened hearts thy grace might shine…' from "All Praise to Thee" mixed and overlaid with a melody that is an imitation of the Muslim "Call to Prayer" - a superficial imitation because the complexities of the rhythmic figures and the melodic fragments were impossible to duplicate. Sometimes these melodic fragments and quotes overlap, or are played simultaneously.
After the mood of the first movement, I was continually drawn for the second movement to a song from my song cycle, Declaration. I had set a poem by David Adams that he wrote after 9/11. The music is very much the same as the original song, but elaborated and expanded for instruments.
An Angel's Song, by David Adams
Whom do you call angel now?
If I am as old as stars,
If I am the speech of God
Find my shadow in the apple boughs.
Find my green wings in the mountains,
My white tears broken in the seas.
For even as you die,
No stalk bends without its angel.
I have heard wailing centuries.
I am waiting in their silences like snow
To dream the music of a single tongue-
One pure leaf in a voiceless wind.
Whom do you call angel now?
Who will teach you how to love?
The third movement, Scherzo, provides a momentary respite from the intensity of the other movements. For the last movement, Moderato, Vivace, I used a strict 12-tone row with no inclusion of other harmonic material - something I had hardly ever done before. The middle section of this movement, though sounding quite different, maintains the row.
Since composing this quintet, I have used a row fairly often, frequently overlaying it with tonal or other harmonies. I love this harmonic complexity.
"My white tears broken in the seas," a rhapsodic adagio, lies at the heart of Brouwer's dark-hued Clarinet Quintet. In melodies as simple as folk song and harmonies that weep, bleed and fall, the music reflects on the deep sadness that is expressed in jagged rhythms and angular dialogues in the opening movement." - Wilma Salisbury, The Plain Dealer, 2005
“Even without the back story, for example, the Clarinet Quintet is clearly a work of masterful intent; the command with which Brouwer creates and develops an evolving relationship between the clarinet alongside and intertwined with the strings ranges so freely in mood and colour that it would be fascinating to follow with the score.” - Laurence Vittes, Gramophone, December 2014
"Margaret Brouwer’s immense prowess as a composer is in full evidence in her Quintet for Clarinet in A and String Quartet, which is masterfully performed by the Maia String Quartet – Tricia Park and Zoran Jakovic, violins, Elizabeth Oakes, viola, Hannah Holman, cello and clarinetist Daniel Silver. In her informative liner notes, Brouwer describes the work as “a musical experiment to see whether the overlaying of different cultural influences can add to and enhance each other.” For example, during the opening movement she inventively layers musical quotes from Christian hymns with an imitation of the Muslim Call to Prayer." - Mike Telin on Naxos CD "Shattered," ClevelandClassical, July 2014
"...'My white tears broken in the seas' takes the melody of one of Brouwer’s songs. It has a beautiful melodic line for the clarinet and quartet that is developed with the clarinet and instruments of the quartet weaving around each other. The strings provide translucent, high harmonies responded to by arabesques from the clarinet, often high in the register. Soon the melody appears in a richer textured form before leading to a slowly quietening coda..." - Bruce Reader, The Classical Reviewer, 2014
"Brouwer’s Clarinet Quintet is quite complex, using 12-tone techniques and incorporating holy music from both the Christian and Islamic faiths. Also written as a response to recent world events involving the United States and the Middle East, the quintet musically breaks out and explores many of the individual issues that make up the chaotic and seemingly grim world in which it was written." - Seth Tompkins, Second Inversion, 2014
"Brouwer characterizes the Quintet (19:42) as a multicultural and "complex expression with many layers, overlaying a twelve-tone harmonic plan with tonal sonorities as well as Middle Eastern influences." The scherzo is very brief and the final movement "employs a strict twelve-tone row with no inclusion of other harmonic material," something she says she rarely does." - James Tobin, Classical Net Review, 2014
"The more substantial work on the program is Clarinet Quintet in A. The piece was written as a response to American aggression overseas, in particular the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The anger and frustration Brouwer herself was feeling at this underbelly of American nationalism is explored in the outer movements of the work. A more somber second movement serves as a reflection for the September 11 attacks with a brief moment of relief in the third-movement scherzo. For this work, Brouwer used a serial approach for harmonic qualities in one layer along with other 12-tone techniques. Middle Eastern influences appear with imitations of the Muslim call to prayer mixed in with hymn quotes. The melodic fragments and imitations all create a sometimes complex and intense musical sound world with the clarinet providing the clearest delineation of the quoted material. One of these announcements occurs early enough so that scrutiny can allow the listener to follow the deconstruction of these melodies. And a fuller string quartet statement certainly draws further attention to this music. This is a very intense work though and yet sudden flashes of lyrical lines allow for some respite. It is a fascinating work that is certainly worth repeated exploration. Perhaps one sense of this music is that it pits this seemingly “righteous” attitude that in one sense lives in a different theological world view and which is then horribly perverted by events beyond control. The result is a work that some may feel is closer to Ives at times philosophically and which makes for a rather engaging listen." - Cinemusical, June 2014