Stravinsky’s Fantastic Petrouchka – Clarinet Part and Videos

This past weekend the Columbus Symphony played the concert version of the ballet music to Petrouchka by Igor Stravinsky. On the same program was the famous Tchaikovsky piano concerto, with Vladimir Feltsman soloing. Enrique Diemecke conducted.

Stravinsky presents a rubric's cube to solve, technically and musically. Yet the music easily transmits an astounding array of moods, colors and rhythms. Stravinsky easily takes the prize for the most fantastic and original composer of the 20th century in classical music, a colossal achievement.

Here are the first and second parts of the vivid ballet on YouTube. Skip to the 5 minute mark in the first one and watch the whole second one for a trippy musical treat with an eerie story to boot!

Stravinsky's music is always both a joy and a real challenge to perform. I began several weeks ago to practice the harder licks in Petrouchka which, though it doesn't have a huge number of clarinet solos it, has quite a few tricky licks.

Uncannily, this program had two pieces with licks requiring a left hand D# key to play well, Stravinsky Petrouchka and Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto. Excerpts which require a left D# are so rare that most standard clarinets don't even have a left hand D# key! Only the premium models come standard with that key.

Here's the Stravinsky lick:
stravinsky petrouchka clarinet part 1
Here's the Tchaikovsky lick:
Tchaikovsky Piano concerto clarinet part 1

Without the left D# key, the Stravinsky lick requires either leaving the D# out altogether, or playing the first G# with a really odd "false" fingering (using the first and second fingers of each hand) in order to be able to reach the left C# key and then play the D# with the right pinky.

The Tchaikovsky lick can be played without a left D# key only by flipping from right and left pinky during the (very quick) eight note C#.

All my life I've played on Buffet R13 models which do not have the extra key. Only recently, with the purchase of a set of Selmer Privilege models two years ago and just in the past 2 weeks a set of Buffet Toscas, have I had the option of using the left D# in both those examples.

After a lifetime of never having to use that key, it took a bit of getting used to.

Firstly, when practicing the licks with the new key, my voicing was all wrong and the note sounded quite "bleety". Since I only play a left B, C or C# on my D#less instrument, I automatically voice for one of those when playing the left D# which is a whole step higher than any other left key, and must be voiced as such. This experience reminded me how subtle voicing habits are after years of practice. Only by imagining I was playing a right pinky D# was I able to translate that voicing to the left D#.

Then there was the simple matter of coordination and incorporating a new finger pattern into my 40 year old habits. Not too difficult with a bit of patience. Remember, the Stravinsky lick is almost inaudible amid the ding of a huge orchestral crescendo. But still, it's nice to get all the notes in the right place. It just feels good!

The Stravinsky lick, despite being inaudible for the most part, was the hardest lick in the piece for me, even with the left D# key available. It uses almost ALL the pinky keys, not unlike the end of Debussy's Premiere Rhapsodie. But the Stravinsky passage also skips around much more and has articulations to complicate it, plus uses the G# pinky key. In fact it uses 7 of all 9 pinky keys possible. Here's a closeup video of me practicing it.

Would you like to share practice ideas with other musicians? You could do so at the Practice Café.

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