Serious clarinetists are probably all-too familiar with Igor Stravinsky’s devilishly difficult Three Pieces for solo clarinet, written in 1918 and published in 1919. This piece was written as a thank-you present to philanthropist and amateur clarinetist Werner Reinhart (1884-1951) for his support of Stravinsky’s music.
This is one of the first true unaccompanied solos in the clarinet repertoire, and it is commonplace for this work to be asked on auditions because it demonstrates the player’s technical and lyrical abilities. Another unique element of this piece is that it is written for both B-flat and A clarinet in the same piece (the first two movements are “preferably” on A clarinet, while the third is “preferably” on B-flat).
But did you know that Stravinsky also wrote a lesser-known (and much shorter) “fourth piece” for solo clarinet?
In April 1917, Stravinsky was at a café in Rome, where he wrote this impromptu piece on an Italian telegram form. This piece, “Pour Picasso,” was written for the artist Pablo Picasso, and legend has it that Stravinsky wrote this while inebriated. (Composers – they’re just like us!)
According to Stravinsky’s friend and biographer Robert Craft, “…the composer was alcoholically elevated at the time, since the lines of the staff weave uncharacteristically, and the name ‘Pablo’ is misspelled as ‘Paolo,’ and the Italian word for April is also incorrect. The music betrays no sign of inebriation, however, and the Spanish character of the embellished six-pitch melody is established in only 23 notes.”
Although this piece is not considered a prequel to or missing movement in Stravinsky’s famous Three Pieces, some clarinetists perform and record “Pour Picasso” as a bonus movement.