Gra (‘game’ in Polish) is a relatively unknown gem of the twentieth-century clarinet repertoire. Written in 1993 to commemorate the 80th birthday of Witold Lutoslawski, of whom Carter was a great friend and admirer, it was first performed by Roland Diry at the Pontino Music Festival in Sermoneta, Italy. It has two clearly defined musical ideas, expansive espressivo passages contrasted with sections of intense rhythmic vitality. Indeed despite it being a solo piece, such is the abruptness with which these ideas change, a feeling of internal conflict is created, a tension which is further exacerbated by Carter’s restricted use of pitch. The character is constantly changing, occasionally showing glimpses of the ‘playfulness’ described by the composer. The climax of the conflict is reached near to the end of the piece. A final attempt is made to break free of both the expressive writing and pitch limitations with a wild flurry of notes encompassing the whole range of the clarinet, marked in the score as brillante, a piacere. However, the attempt soon fails and the surrender is completed with a beautiful multiphonic dyad as the music slowly dies away.
Carter is well known for the attention to detail in his scores and Gra is no exception. Typically there are at least three dynamic markings per bar, and few notes are left without an accent or staccato of some kind.
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