Variants for Solo Clarinet (1963): William O. Smith
William O. Smith’s Variants marked a genuine landmark in clarinet composition. Never before had a piece been written purely as an exploration of extended techniques, including: multiphonics, flutter-tonguing, portamento, singing whilst playing, muting, and extremes of altissimo register. However, despite the music’s experimental nature, the use of the effects is not arbitrary, but is determined by a clear organisational principle based around the emotive title of each short movement. Perhaps the best summary of this extraordinary piece came shortly after its first performance, given by the composer, in the New York Herald Tribune: “William Smith's clarinet pieces, played by himself, must be heard to be believed – double, even triple stops; pure whistling harmonics; tremolo growls and burbles; ghosts of tones, shrill screams of sounds, weird echoes, whispers and clarinet twitches; the thinnest of thin pure line; then veritable avalanches of bubbling, burbling sound. Completely impossible except that it happened; with that kind of playing who needs electronic music?”
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