Installations > The Jar Project

Jar Project Music
Jar Project Music at Whitney Art Works
March 4 and March 5, 2011


World Premiere of music by Daniel Sonenberg
Seven Jarring Dances for Clarinet(s) and Steel-String Guitar
Link to hear Music

Featuring short pieces composed for Clarinets in A and Bb. as well as piccolo clarinet in Eb and bass clarinet in Bb.

Performed by
Maria Wagner, clarinets
Daniel Sonenberg, guitar

Program note by Dan Sonenberg

The Seven Jarring Dances were composed in response to my wife Alex’s request that I write some music for the opening of her installation “The Jar Project.”
Like the jars in the installation, and jars in general, which preserve so much of human experience, the suite seems to me to encompass a kind of life cycle of emotion, perhaps a metaphorical journey through life’s seasons.

Some comments on each of the dances:

I. Joyously: replete with spring festivity and loosely inspired in its rhythmic structure by Monteverdi’s aria “Vi ricordi” from the early opera Orfeo. For clarinet in Bb.

2. Pastoral: In drop D tuning (standard guitar tuning with the low E string tuned down to D), a harbinger of the alternate tuning that defines the latter part of the suite. Another take on spring, which makes extensive use of open strings and guitar resonance. For clarinet in A.

3. Boldly, Bluesy: but a rather sunny blues, truth be told. This dance features the bass clarinet (in Bb), and contains several long, almost bebop-like, melodic lines, presented in unison by the two instruments.

4. Lullaby Waltz: a first twinge of melancholy enters the suite in this movement; it is a pure waltz in a rather romantic guise, with a B section that is shamelessly inspired by Chopin (whose birthday it is, as I type this note). The backward musical glance is colored by nostalgia, and I think of the memories we have of jarred delicacies, prepared by departed love ones, or perhaps those very loved ones themselves, with whom we shared pure joy long ago. For clarinet in A.

5. With Slavic Intensity: an insistent and intense, Eastern European-infused romp for E flat (piccolo) clarinet, in all its obnoxious, vibrant intensity. The guitar uses the common folk tuning of DADGAD, and is capo’d up one fret so that Eb is central. From this point on, alternate tunings predominate, inspired in no small part by my love of and writing about Joni Mitchell (the master of alternate guitar tunings). This dance is a burst of renewed energy, a last grasp at youth, or the fading warmth of summer.

6. Warmly, lazily; Uncomplicated and fast: The guitar is now tuned to CGCGBD, which gives it a deep, rumbling sort of quality in its bass notes. The feeling here is autumnal, a world of experience has been accrued since the verdant celebrations earlier in the suite. A maturity, and sense of contentment reigns throughout, culminating in a joyous (though not too exuberant), uncomplicatedly sweet conclusion. For clarinet in Bb.

7. grandly, passionately, and with extreme liberty and rubato; Ecstatic: This dance recapitulates the first dance, but in a wholly transcendent manner. The guitar is now saddled with the very dissonant and problematic tuning of BGCGBbEb, with its lowest string a marvel of buzzes and clacks, dissonantly grating against the cm7 chord of its upper five neighbors. The piece begins out of time, with a kind of heroic pathos, as the clarinet presents an improvisatory, drawn out rendition of the opening melodic line of dance 1. The guitar enters with overwrought and uncontained tremolo. At a climactic early moment, the guitar presents its horrifically discordant all-open chord, with the clarinet emitting an anguished wail above. The guitar then begins the act of transcendence, as the low B string is audibly retuned, up and down, ultimately landing on C, and, after an accelerando, the C minor 7th chord is suddenly transformed (by means of two stopped strings) to a vibrant C major chord. A great crisis has been overcome. The meter now emerges as an ecstatic 6/8, and the clarinet returns with a soaring rendition of the theme, ever building in intensity. At a climactic moment, the pulsating guitar chords stop, and a resurgence of melancholy occurs, as the key shifts to minor and the clarinet plays a sad version of the continuation of the melody in its low register. The all-open chord returns, heralding a new line in the clarinet, but ultimately, a solemn and resolved C major (which turns out to be the key of the suite) chord emerges, strummed emphatically five times.