10 of the Best Pieces of Music Written for Clarinet

The clarinet is a woodwind instrument. The clarinet has a wide range of tones that are pleasant to the ear. Many wonderful pieces have been composed for the clarinet, and I’ll go through 10 of them in this article that I believe are some of the finest.

A piece of music written for a specific instrument tells us many things about that instrument. When you hear a melody played by that instrument, you think that no other instrument could give that feeling.

How can some composers make it to choose the right instrument for the right music? Also the contrary, how can composers make it to create the right melodies for the right instrument? Do they ever think like “what would that instrument tell me if it had a language?”

I don’t know what others think while composing, but I really feel this way when I hear a piece of music written for “that instrument” and nothing else.

In this article, “that instrument” is clarinet and I will talk about 10 of my favorite pieces of music written for a significant part of my life which is the clarinet.

Generally, I don’t write in such a literary style but apparently, I get emotional because I have much to say and share after having years of different experiences with it. The clarinet is my family, so I really want to show the richness in its repertoire here to you from my perspective and apparently, the perspective of the composers who have written these pieces for clarinet.

As the title indicates, this is not a Top 10 list, so the order of the songs is random and you can find some good clarinet music from different genres.

1. Clarinet Concerto – Aaron Copland

One of the most fascinating clarinet concertos ever composed was written for the famous jazz clarinetist, Benny Goodman, by the American composer, Aaron Copland, between 1947 and 1949. The concerto is not like other classical concertos at all. It includes jazzy and also popular features. Also, the structure of the concerto is extraordinary.

The beginning of the concerto is the slow movement of the concerto which is not something that you come up with in the classical repertoire. In fact, there are no three separate movements either in this concerto. The movements are all attached to each other and the entire concerto takes around 17 minutes.

The long intro makes us hear the wide sound range of the clarinet in a soft way, magic almost like film music with strings and harp. Later on, the elements of jazz style Show up as the tempo goes faster.

2. Hommage à Manuel de Falla – Béla Kovács

The solo piece written for clarinet is from the “Hommage à” series of the Hungarian composer, Béla Kovács, in 1990. The piece is written for the clarinet but it is written to remind us of the Spanish guitar in the compositions of de Falla.

So the clarinet gives you a strange feeling almost as if it is another instrument, at least imitating another stringed instrument. It is one of the best pieces written for clarinet in my eyes.

3. Clarinet Quintet in B minor Op.115 – Johannes Brahms

Clarinet in the romantic era couldn’t be better than its presence in this quintet. It is one of the masterpieces of the German composer, Johannes Brams that he wrote in 1891.

You hear one of the most elegant clarinet styles along with a string quartet (two violins, viola, and cello) in three separate movements. The first movement is always higher-rated than the other movements, though.

4. Alt.Music.Ballistix for Clarinet and CD – Nikola Resanovic

One of the most extraordinary and interesting pieces, written for clarinet by Serbian-American composer, Nikola Resanovic, in 1995. The piece includes electronic sounds recorded on a cd and the clarinetist performs the piece in the Balkanic style along with the cd recording.

Personally, it was one of the most fun experiences for me when I first performed it in Strasbourg, France, in 2012. That was the first time that I got close to electronic music. Musicians have this kind of breaking point in their careers. For me, it was this experience because, after that, I couldn’t go far from electronic music.

5. Clarinet Concerto in A Major K622 – W.A.Mozart

Absolutely a classic from the Classical era, there is no need to say many other things. The Austrian composer, Mozart wrote the concerto in 1791. The concerto has three movements, which are allegro, adagio and rondo.

The clarinet concerto is considered one of the most beautiful and mature works of Mozart, as it is one of his latest compositions. The second movement of the clarinet concerto is very famous as it has been the soundtrack of many films and series.

6. The Klezmer’s Freilach – Arrangement of Anonymous Klezmer Folk Music

A joyful, cheerful song that celebrates the clarinet and its presence in Klezmer music, it has various arrangements for leading clarinet and various bands. The version in the link is a version of the Ensemble Tangette, recorded in 2018. In the piece, besides the cheerful air of the piece, you also hear the stylistic richness of the clarinet but in a modest way. 

7. Clarinet Solo from “Rhapsody in Blue” – George Gershwin

This solo is one of the showiest solos in the clarinet repertoire, written by the American composer Gershwin, in 1924. Everyone loves it and all the clarinet players love to play it.

8. Harmandalı – Arrangement of Anonymous Turkish Folk Music

Harmandalı is a piece of traditional music and dance from the Aegean Region in Turkey. Mostly it is played with clarinet or zurna and traditional drum accompanies. This music was arranged by the band Laço Tayfa in 2000 and recorded by them. Hüsnü Şenlendirici is the leading soloist with his clarinet.

The piece is in a slow tempo and it is extremely touching. Harmandalı originally has a bit faster tempo even though the dance is made with slow movements. I think that this version was intentionally made with a slower tempo so that the clarinet is able to express its grief. You almost hear the clarinet crying.

9. Clarinet Sonata Op. 167 – Camille Saint-Saëns

Another fascinating piece of music for clarinet was written by French composer, Saint-Saëns, in 1921. It shows both the soft and dark sides of the clarinet in four separated movements.

10.  Tosca “E Lucevan le Stelle” Clarinet Solo – Giacomo Puccini

One of the most beautiful and iconic orchestral clarinet solos that go along with one of the most beautiful romantic arias ever written by the great Italian composer, Giacomo Puccini in 1900.

Summary

These 10 of the best pieces of music written for clarinet are proof of how the clarinet has been internalized by almost every culture around the world thanks to its stylistic flexibility. Composers have been expressing their joy or grief no matter elegantly or simply through this unique wind instrument.

Arda Tuncer is a music producer, composer, songwriter, arranger, and performer. She releases music as part of the music duo, Kronik Leila. She has worked and collaborated with some prestigious orchestras around Europe, while also holding University positions as music theory professor and music research assistant. Arda studied music theory and clarinet at the Ecole Normale de Musique de Paris and completed her degree at the Conservatory of Strasbourg in France.

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