SOLO INSTRUMENT - Theme and Absurdities (1993) Program Notes

Theme and Absurdities is a humorously virtuosic piece for solo clarinet, a spoof of all those loveable yet undeniably annoying theme and variations pieces based on some aria. A whole bunch of these were written for clarinet between about 1850 and 1930, and they make great encore pieces. This one is a particularly nightmarish tribute to the genre: the variations are served up in eight-bar chunks, growing steadily in ridiculousness.

The nugget of the piece is contained in the opening phrase. The theme is complex - certainly unsingable, with large jumps through the interval of a seventh - and almost as absurd as the eleven "absurdities" (and coda) that follow.

Theme and Absurdities employs a huge pitch range; at one point the clarinet ekes out a high D. Daring three-octave leaps are taken, technique itself becomes the subject of ridicule (chromatic runs, flutter-tonguing, notes jam-packed into a few measures,) and directionality is added in the coda as the clarinet is unceremoniously waved from side to side. The variations end with a quote from Also Sprach Zarathustra - a fitting bit of pomposity for the whole endeavor.

- Mic Holwin
(adapted from his note for Derek Bermel's CRI recording of the piece)

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