That’s a stupid idea

I’ve been listening to Chaconne by Michael and Kimberly Davenport, a recording of bass clarinet music; the title piece is an arrangement of the last movement from the Violin Partita in D minor by J. S. Bach. It’s a virtuosic showpiece (and I’m not sure it really works that well on a wind instrument, but Michael Davenport certainly plays it well), and it got me thinking about another chaconne I know — except technically it’s a passacaglia — the first movement of Holst’s First Suite for band. The whole suite has been arranged for clarinet quintet, clarinet quartet, and even clarinet trio, but hey… why stop there? How about a clarinet solo? Not the last two movements, they’re too contrapuntal, but I can imagine stripping away the ground bass of the Chaconne and converting the rest into a solo piece (and, incidentally, turning the Chaconne-that’s-really-a-passacaglia into a Chaconne-that’s-really-a-chaconne).

But you have to start with the ground bass — that’s all there is the first eight measures — and it ought to sound, well, bass-ish, or at least lie in the low part of the clarinet range, and in the original key, it doesn’t. It starts on concert E flat and goes up to C and down to G. On a B flat clarinet you’d have to start near the top end of the lower register, cross into the bottom of the second register, and bottom out a fourth above the lowest note on the instrument. All this is an octave above the original euphonium part and two octaves above the tuba part. Doesn’t give the impression of a bass line at all.

So what do you do? Transpose? Put it down a fourth and it bottoms out on the B flat clarinet’s lowest note and stays in the lower register. Sounds better, but I dunno, transposing by a fourth? Seems wrong somehow.

You could do it on bass clarinet. You’d be in the euphonium’s range for the start. You still wouldn’t approach the bottom notes of even a low E flat instrument, and unfortunately a low C instrument still doesn’t go low enough to allow dropping an octave.

Or… you could do it on alto clarinet. In the original key it’d go to the second lowest note on the instrument. That’d be the same octave as the euphonium. It’d be like playing it transposed on the B flat clarinet, but without actually transposing it. Hey, a (not too difficult) showpiece solo for alto clarinet? That appeals to me, if only because it’d piss off anti-alto clarinet snobs. Of course, my alto clarinet probably doesn’t work well enough to be able to play such a thing, and I’d need a better reason to spend money on fixing it up.

Anyway, that’s my dumb idea for the day.


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