Sequenza IXa (1980) by Luciano Berio
for clarinet

Luciano Berio composed the first of his solo Sequenzas in 1958; the ninth work in the series, for solo clarinet, was completed in 1980. These remarkable works, each written for a different instrument (including one for voice), make use of extended playing techniques that demand considerable virtuosity of execution. They are a series of "transcendental etudes" that owe their essence to the characteristic timbres and colors of the given instrument, but which define these from their very limits inward.

All of the Sequenzas (as well as the numerous ensemble works — such as the series Chemins — which Berio has derived from severa1 of them) share what Paul Griffiths has called Berio's "liking for hectic musical activity within closely defined harmonic limits, his obsession with repeated return, re-definition and re-elaboration." In Sequenza IX, this activity begins with short legato phrases in arch-like shapes that share a common dotted snap-rhythm, punctuated by sustained tones and an occasional rising flourish. These phrases become increasingly frenetic, resulting in a tumbling-out of the flourish into longer rapid passages. The sustained tone also assumes greater prominence, in several guises — clothed in "harmony" by means of multiphonics, and rapidly re-articulated by tonguing or through alternate fingerings. It comes to dominate the texture with a very distinct identity, held long and fortissimo in the highest register, towards the end of the work.

[from program for April 19, 1993 concert]