Sir Harrison Birtwistle - Linoi (1968)
for basset clarinet in A and piano
According to clarinettist Alan Hacker’s note in the published score, Linoi is the first piece written in modern times for the basset clarinet: a soprano clarinet with extended lower range, developed by Theodor Lotz and Anton Stadler near the end of the 18th century and used by Mozart in two of the pinnacles of the clarinet repertoire.
Hacker was a pivotal figure in the basset clarinet’s revival, not only in cementing its place in performance of the Mozart works but in finding a place for it in contemporary music, particularly in works by Birtwistle and Peter Maxwell Davies. He had to have clarinets specially extended by helpful builders; nowadays Buffet have an off-the-peg model.
Birtwistle’s early basset clarinet works use the instrument’s four-octave range as a constructional principle: the Four Interludes for a Tragedy (for basset clarinet and tape: withdrawn for a time until I recently secured Harry’s permission to perform it, thanks to Lesley Schatzberger providing me with a copy of the music and Tom Hall reconstructing Peter Zinovieff’s tape!) each concentrate on one part of the range, from top to bottom, while Linoi’s sections, punctuated by plucked notes from the piano, rise and fall, each time through a wider tessitura, culminating in a descent through four octaves and a semitone.
But the piece is not only ‘about’ Birtwistle’s elegant musical constructions: they sit side by side with an immense expressive range, a contribution from Alan Hacker no less important than the extended pitch range of his clarinet.