The clarinet has a wide variety of repertoire written throughout its history, and the collection only continues to grow as more people write for the best instrument around.
Among these works, there are many pieces with famous clarinet cadenzas, or extended solo passages to demonstrate the virtuosic ability of the player.
A brief history of the cadenza
At the turn of the 19th century, cadenzas were improvised by the performer and typically placed at the end of the movement to demonstrate the performer’s technical dexterity. Over time, composers began creating and writing cadenzas in their works. While some were still placed at the end of movements, this was no longer expected.
What’s the difference between a solo and a cadenza?
A cadenza usually has little to no piano or orchestral accompaniment (although this isn’t always the case), whereas a solo usually has accompanying lines. The tempo and pacing of a cadenza is usually at the discretion of the soloist, oftentimes with rubato. The tempo of a solo is oftentimes dictated by the accompanying lines (or conductor, in the case of orchestral solos).
Here are some famous clarinet works with famous cadenzas
- Clarinet Concerto – Aaron Copland
- Clarinet Concerto – John Corigliano
- Clarinet Concerto – Jean Françaix
- Solo de concours – André Messager
- Clarinet Concerto – Carl Nielsen
- Solo de concours – Henri Rabaud
- Clarinet Concerto – Henri Tomasi
Historically, clarinet concerti such as those by Carl Maria von Weber and Bernhard Crusell were also played with cadenzas. The versions played today (most notably in the Weber Concerti) are based on versions played by clarinetists of the time, and these have been notated and are still often performed today.
Orchestral & chamber works
- The Miraculous Mandarin, Op. 19, Sz. 73 (BB 82) – Béla Bartók
- Contrasts for clarinet, violin, piano – Béla Bartók
- Rhapsody in Blue – George Gershwin
- Dances of Galánta – Zoltán Kodály
- Mozartiana – Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
These orchestral cadenzas include minimal accompaniment and include devilishly difficult technical dexterity to showcase the player’s finesse. I have chosen the works listed above for their extensive solo passages, and there are dozens of other orchestral clarinet cadenzas.
This is not intended to be a comprehensive list of clarinet cadenzas – there are several wonderful clarinet cadenzas in the repertoire, and I encourage you to listen to a wide variety of music to discover your favorite.
An excellent resource is the Gustave Langenus Clarinet Cadenzas – How to Phrase Them.