Clarinet Quintet

for clarinet in Bb and string quartet

Ian Stephens

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for clarinet in Bb and string quartet

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Composer Ian Stephens
Year of Composition 2017
Duration ca.15'
Categories (all composers) , , , ,
Catalogue ID ce-is1cq1


The Clarinet Quintet was commissioned in memory of Brian Richards (1934-2003) by his daughters. My connection with him is through Pigotts Music Camp, an inspirational place in the Chiltern Hills. Though I never had the pleasure of meeting him, I have made music with many members of his family over the years; indeed my daughters and his granddaughter have often sung together. A Consultant Urologist, internationally recognised for research into bladder cancer, he was also a formidable clarinettist and an enthusiast for all forms of family and social music making.

I had asked his daughters if there were any particular favourite pieces to which I could allude, and from the various choices, I decided on the Prisoners’ Chorus, ‘O welche Lust’, from Beethoven’s Fidelio. The words are telling:

   Oh what joy, in the open air

   Freely to breathe again!

   Up here alone is life!

   The dungeon is a grave.

There is a poignancy to the last line quoted here, reflecting his later struggle with Parkinson’s and how it constrained his ability to express his personality – his energy, sense of fun and love of wordplay – and his participation in chamber music.

Elements from ‘O welche Lust’ find their way into each movement, but particularly the central episode of the second movement.

This piece is a companion piece to Springhead Echoes, a string quartet commissioned by his daughters in memory of their mother Rosalind, and which was written earlier in 2017. The ‘shadow’ piece behind Springhead Echoes is Brahms’ Violin Sonata No.1 in G major; twice in the Clarinet Quintet one of the key motifs from the Brahms sonata is quietly intoned, thus drawing together the two pieces.