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Academy Clarinet Quartet

 

Program Notes

Personnel/Production Credits

Click on a title below to hear the recording in MP3 format.

Quartet No. 10 in Eb, Op. 74 (1809) Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), arr. SFC John Parrette
Poco adagio - Allegro (8:11)
Adagio ma non troppo (8:21)
Presto - Più presto quasi prestissimo (4:35)
Allegretto con Variazione (7:28)

 

Quartet No. 2, Op. 17 (1917) Béla Bartók (1881-1945), arr. SSG Samuel Kaestner
Moderato (9:21)
Allegro molto capriccioso (8:10)
Lento (9:12)

Academy Clarinet Quartet
MSG Rachel Grasso, third clarinet
SFC Shawn Herndon, second clarinet
SFC John Parrette, first clarinet
SSG Samuel Kaestner, bass clarinet

 

PROGRAM NOTES

Beethoven's Quartet in E-flat major, Opus 74 was written in the summer and fall of 1809, a difficult time for all the residents of Vienna, which was under attack by the French. In late July, Beethoven complained to his publisher about his inability to compose amidst the noise and chaos of the invasion. However, as is so often the case with composers under duress, Beethoven composed a quartet that completely belies the gloomy circumstances surrounding its composition. Beethoven's Opus 74 is full of hope, warmth and affection.

The quartet opens with a contemplative introduction in the key of E-flat major. The introduction is introspective and pulls quickly towards the sober subdominant, A-flat, the key of the slow second movement. The Allegro that follows the introduction is confident and robust. It immediately displays a similar tendency towards the subdominant. Soon, the harp-like pizzicati for which the quartet received its nickname follow. The development contains a wonderfully exultant C-major treatment of the main theme, and the coda creates one of the most original and powerful passages in quartet writing to date. The first and second clarinets break out into gleaming arpeggios as if suddenly performing a concerto. While the notes fly by, the texture deepens and solidifies beneath the arpeggios. The quartet crescendos to a tremendous level of intensity before the movement ends.

The gentle A-flat Adagio is in the form of a rondo. This movement contains one of Beethoven’s longest and most beautiful melodies. The striking melody appears three times, each time with subtle variations. A more melancholy episode makes an appearance before the next occurrence of the main melody each time. The last portion of the Adagio prominently features the famous pizzicato arpeggios.

The third movement is a very vigorous C-minor Scherzo. Its rhythm suggests the opening statement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. The trio of the movement is increasingly riotous, flying by at an even faster tempo than the opening of the movement and in a major key. The similarities with the Fifth Symphony become even more striking when the Scherzo fades into a whispering pianissimo that behaves similarly to the famous bridge into the Fifth Symphony's finale.

The final movement of the quartet is a delightful theme and variations. The variations range in demeanor from pompous to warm and even introspective. The quartet is pushed to its limits in the final variation before Beethoven taunts the listener with the final two notes of the piece. After building to a tremendous climax, the piece falls away into a quaint, nearly mocking ending.

Bela Bartók wrote six string quartets throughout his compositional career. The six quartets can be viewed as a microcosm of Bartók's evolving compositional styles. Throughout his life, Bartók was intensely interested in Hungarian folk music. This interest is readily apparent in nearly all of his music, including the Second String Quartet. Bartók uses scales and rhythms normally not associated with classical music, but with Hungarian folk music.

Bartók's six string quartets redefined the genre of string quartet literature. In his quartets, he utilizes several extended techniques for the musicians. At times, he calls upon one musician to play three and even four notes at the same time. Bartók also calls for many different timbres by asking the musicians to play in portions of the string not usually bowed (sul ponticello and sul tassitera), as well as at the extremes of the bow (a punta d'arco and au talon), and even with the wooden side of the bow (col legno)! Bartók also invents his own type of pizzicato called the “Bartók pizzicato,” in which the player pulls the string back far enough that it will slap against the fingerboard of the instrument, creating a percussive smack along with the desired pitch. Bartók also expands the acceptable harmonic language of the time. He infuses his quartets with dissonance and discord for both accent and unique striking beauty.

At the time of its writing, Bartok's Second String Quartet must have been difficult for audiences to tolerate listening to. As time has passed, all of Bela Bartok's six string quartets have become staples of the canon of string quartet literature and are regularly performed throughout the world.

Bartók composed his Second String Quartet between 1915 and 1917 outside of Budapest, where he was living in near seclusion. The first performance of the quartet was in 1918 by the Waldbauer-Kerpely Quartet in Budapest. The work has an unconventional three-movement form. The piece opens in a relaxed and eloquent mood, shifting between the meters of 6/8 and 9/8. The first movement is in a modified sonata form consisting of three main subjects. The second movement is an unruly scherzo based on the interval of the tritone, an interval not usually used as the sole basis for a theme. The movement closes with a prestissimo coda, which starts out as barely a whisper and ends at a tremendous roar. The final movement, a bleak Lento, is based in part on thematic material from the first movement. The climax of the movement is just a fleeting suggestion before dying away. The rest of the movement fades away into fragments of the original thematic material before ending with a startling pizzicato.

- SSG Samuel Kaestner

Arranging String Quartets for Four Clarinets

The Academy Clarinet Quartet is proud to present this recording of music originally written for string quartet. In our ongoing search for repertoire, we discovered that string quartets were remarkably well suited to the clarinet. The clarinet has a very large range, enabling it to play in a range similar to the violin and viola. The bass clarinet is equally able to match the range of the cello. The sound of four clarinets is very homogenous and is able to blend in much the same way as a string quartet.

Our primary goal in music selection was to find repertoire that we could accurately reproduce. One obvious limitation is the clarinet’s inability to play more than one note at a time. We looked carefully to find repertoire with very few double stops in order to eliminate the need to omit pitches. In order to make the music better suited to the clarinet, some passages have been displaced by an octave and some articulations were adapted to the clarinet. In order to add a slightly different timbre to the sound of the viola part, Master Sergeant Rachel Grasso performs the third clarinet part to Bartók’s Second String Quartet on clarinet in A. Overall, the impact of the music is genuine and the composer’s intent unchanged. We hope you enjoy the recording.

 

GROUP AND PERFORMER BIOGRAPHIES

One of the Band's newer chamber groups, the Academy Clarinet Quartet, was formed in September of 2002. In addition to performing standard works for clarinet quartet, they have branched out to create their own repertoire from music initially written for string quartet. Sergeant First Class John Parrette and Staff Sergeant Sam Kaestner have arranged several string quartets for the clarinet quartet, including works by Mozart, Bach and the composers featured on this recording. Sergeant First Class Shawn Herndon is the newest member of the Academy Quartet, having joined in October 2004.

Master Sergeant Rachel Grasso, from Houston, Texas, came to the Military Academy Band in 1988. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Houston and a master’s degree from Indiana University. Her teachers have included Chester Rowell, Jeffrey Lerner and Kalmen Opperman. MSG Grasso serves as the E flat clarinetist in the Concert Band and performs in the Academy Clarinet Quartet. Additionally, she has been an adjunct professor at the State University of New York at New Paltz and a free-lance musician in the Hudson Valley.

Sergeant First Class Shawn Herndon is an active recitalist, teacher and clinician. He has appeared as a soloist with the United States Military Academy Concert Band and has given recitals and master classes in the United States and Japan. He is a clarinetist with the Concert Band and member of the Academy Clarinet Quartet. He has premiered works by Paul Harvey and Collage by Hudson Valley composer Robert Baksa for clarinet quartet and band. Recently with the Academy Quartet he performed with Mitchell Estrin, former clarinetist of the New York Philharmonic. A native of Dallas, Texas, he earned a bachelor's degree in clarinet performance from Southern Methodist University in Dallas and a master's degree, also in performance, from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. His teachers have included Stephen Girko, former principal clarinetist of the Dallas Symphony, and Ron deKant at the University of Cincinnati. He has also performed with Albany Pro Musica and the Albany Symphony.

Sergeant First Class John Parrette received his Bachelor of Music degree with honors from the New England Conservatory of Music where he studied with Peter Hadcock. Originally from Kansas City, he began his studies with his father, who also served with the U.S. Military Academy Band. SFC Parrette has been with the Military Academy Band since 1987 and assumed the position of principal clarinetist in 1996. He has made numerous solo appearances with the band, including the 2001 North American premiere of Martin Ellerby’s Clarinet Concerto. He has also performed many of his own arrangements with the band, including Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto and Sinfonia Concertante. SFC Parrette is a founding member of the Academy Wind Quintet and the Academy Clarinet Quartet.

Staff Sergeant Sam Kaestner attended the Peabody Conservatory of the Johns Hopkins University where he received instruction from Baltimore Symphony bass clarinetist Edward Palanker and Anthony Gigliotti, former Philadelphia Orchestra principal clarinetist. After his 2000 Peabody graduation with honors, Kaestner went to Northwestern University for graduate work. His Northwestern experience included study with Chicago Symphony bass clarinetist, J. Lawrie Bloom, where he also was a finalist in the graduate concerto competition. In 2002, Kaestner received a masters degree with honors. In addition to his strength as a classical clarinetist, SSG Kaestner also plays jazz. While at Peabody, Kaestner studied jazz with former Miles Davis saxophonist Gary Thomas. SSG Kaestner is a founding member of the Academy Clarinet Quartet and a member of the West Point Woodwind Quintet. He is currently studying with Metropolitan Opera Orchestra bass clarinetist James Ognibene and with John Manasse.

 

Production Credits
Quartet NCOIC, MSG Rachael Grasso
Recording Engineer, SFC David Hershey
Graphic Design, SFC Christian Eberle
Photography, MSG James Mullins


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