2012, bass clarinetist Barbara Haney (recently retired bass clarinetist from "The President's Own" US Marine Band) asked if I would accept a
commission to write her a solo piece to premiere at the 2013 ICA ClarinetFest,
to be held in Assisi, Italy. This was a fast "yes"!
Barbara and I both played in the Haddonfield Symphony and had back-to-back bass clarinet lessons with the Philadelphia
Orchestra's Ron Reuben in the early 1980s, and while I was a composer keeping up
it was clear that Barbara was a stellar bass clarinetist with a big career
ahead. Occasional bass clarinet duets together was an inspiration that still
helps my playing 30 years later. The
opportunity to compose a solo work to be premiered in Assisi, by a virtuoso with
amazing sound, as the first piece I'd ever write for the instrument I knew best,
quickly suggested a clear idea for a suite about St. Francis, and within a day
I'd drafted the following scenario:
The Flowers, Celebrated by St. Francis
Flowers are introduced through an innocent yet florid song, followed by a
chant-like passage from the "voice" of St. Francis. The movement then
continues as a duet between St. Francis and the flowers. The flowers represent
all the fruits of creation as well as simply being flowers in the garden.
St. Francis Preaching to the Birds
St. Francis's chant begins the movement as a flowing cantilena, interrupted by a
dramatic eruption of bird calls (taking advantage of the bass clarinet's
tremendous range and agility). The movement then continues as a dialog between
St. Francis and the birds.
St. Francis Pacifying the Wolf
A ferocious interruption representing an angry wolf who terrorizes the village
is perfect for an eager bass clarinetist. St. Francis is heard befriending the
wolf, and their duet progresses from heated drama to a peaceful resolve as their
themes transform into each other and end gently.
St. Francis Preaching to the Fish
This sempre pp movement may be imagined as occurring underwater; an
opening "glub-glub" motive evokes bubbles rising through water, and
the wiggly sixteenths are like gentle fins waving. The dialog is more subtly
integrated than in previous movements, and St. Francis's voice alludes to other
The Starry Skies, Celebrated by St. Francis
The inspiring majesty of the infinite sky is salted with twinkling stars; St.
Francis's voice becomes one with the harmony of the Universe.