Music by

PROGRAM NOTES by the composer

Invention on Mozart's 11-tone Surprise for Flute and Bb Clarinet

I actually started thinking about this piece 50 years ago, as a teen newly interested in classical music, beginning to compose saxophone music for myself.

That summer I went to the Aspen Music Festival to become immersed in everything I could learn. Though I sort of knew some Mozart, I wasn't aware of the shocking moment in the last movement of Symphony No. 40 (the famous G minor symphony) when the main theme comes back as a loud unison tantrum, like an atonal parody of itself. At 17, I didn't know about tone rows or 20th-century atonality; it just sounded like crazy anarchy barely clinging to the rhythm and general contour of Mozart's theme. I immediately wanted to find out how and why Mozart did that.

Surrounded by older well-trained musicians, I quickly learned this was the opening of Mozart's "development section," and that this big surprise parody included 11 different pitches, every note except the tonic. It struck me as a wonderful idea to write some kind of variations on that development section's opening, as if it was the original theme itself, rather than just a rogue variant. I didn't know how, but I was determined to anyway, first thinking that an unaccompanied trombone piece would be perfect for the phrase's intrusiveness.

Over the years, learning how to write variations and develop themes, I periodically flirted with returning to this adolescent fantasy, but never getting past the first few bars of sketches.

Fast forward to 2020 - Covid stopped all performances and most commissioning organizations' optimism; no one could project what would happen next. One of my thoughts, as commissions slowed down, was that now's the perfect time to write pieces I've always wanted to get around to. I don't recall why I thought of Flute and Clarinet Duo as a setting for Mozart's raucous self-parody, though it does evoke classical charm and flexibility.

The piece is a two-part invention, developing the first half of Mozart's phrase first, then developing the second half, and finally leading to a climactic coming-together of the complete 11-tone surprise, where the Mozart's full "anti-statement" is revealed as the full statement of the Invention's theme. With all these little motivic fragments, hints of other German orchestra music seem to wink at us. From Beethoven to Berg, they're all straight from Mozart's own grand parody.


last updated September 12, 2023