memento b

for clarinet in Bb and cello

James Erber

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for clarinet in Bb and cello

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Composer James Erber

Year of Composition




ca. 7'

Student Difficulty

Categories (all composers) , , ,
Catalogue ID ce-je1m1


The three pieces entitled memento a, b and c, for piano solo, clarinet and cello, and string quartet respectively, form a series of meditations on parts of “The Judde Memorial”, a painting dating from around 1560, housed in The Dulwich Picture Gallery in South East London.

This “strange and sombre funerary image” (in the words of Andrew Graham-Dixon) shows William Judde and his wife (who is either Joan or Anne Cromwell) standing on either side of an altar.  They are pointing at a corpse, which lies in front of them on a slab, wrapped in a shroud.  With their other hands they are touching a skull.  On top of the altar is a row of five symbolic objects: two irises in pots, flanking two woolsacks, with a candle in the middle.  Parts of the painting are inscribed with moralising sentences: at the front of the slab on which the corpse lies, for example, is written “Lyve to Dye And Dye to Lyve Eternally”.

memento b is in six sections. The first, third and fifth are for clarinet alone, while the remaining sections are for both instruments, and explore various textural possibilities available to the duo. The piece is concerned with the part of the painting which shows the husband’s and the wife’s hands touching the skull, above which is written “Behowlde ower ende”.  The three solo sections for clarinet (whose lack of bravura would prevent them from being classified as cadenzas) can be seen as symbolising the skull, while the sections for both instruments, with their more dynamic interplay between clarinet and cello, represent the union of husband and wife. Solo sections and duos both decrease in length according to the same proportions, hinting at the contiguity between life and death which informs the whole of the painting. The third solo section is a mere two bars long and acts as a prelude to the final duo, marked cold, passionless, which brings the work to an uncomfortable end.

The piece was composed between January and June 2018, using material sketched out during the middle of 2016, and is dedicated to Bob Zelickman and Frank Cox, who gave the first performance at the SoundON Festival of Modern Music at the Athenaeum Music and Arts Library, La Jolla CA, on 13th January 2019.