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Performance Notes on Death and Transfiguration, by Michael Drapkin

Overall comments:

- You are playing in German notation. This means reading bass clef and when it switches to treble clef
you read it up an octave. This happens frequently in this part, which can be highly confusing in
performance. In rehearsal, you need to check which clef you are reading when the conductor starts
you in the middle of the piece.
- The main Allegro molto agitato section is mostly in two, but the conductor will switch frequently
between two and four, and not necessarily consistently.
- This is a technically challenging part. Throughout his literature, Richard Strauss expects the bass
clarinetist to play with the same facility, flexibility and range as a soprano clarinet and writes his
parts accordingly. The part goes from extended low D all the way to E above high C, so you need a
low-C instrument in very good condition in which you are comfortable playing the entire range of
the instrument. This is a very athletic part.
- Nowhere do you really play pianissimo, even when it is indicated. This is heavily orchestrated and
you need to balance the section as well as other sections and let the bass clarinet tone color
emerge. In sections written in the bass clarinet low range, you need a lot of deep resonance. You
frequently play with the bassoons, celli, basses, and in loud tutti sections with the horns more
than with the rest of the clarinet section.

Here you have a piece of music that switches clefs, one you have to read up an octave when in treble
clef and a conductor switching between two and four, and thats before you get into any of the technical
challenges.

Specific notes:

1. Your entrances at the 9th bar of A and 1 before B are both solos. Come in at mezzo forte. The
clarinet cue on the 9th bar of A is helpful to reinforce that you are in the right place.
2. 7th bar of B very resonant phrase with clarinets and bassoons. Theres the low D. Come in
strong and play out.
3. The transition to the Allegro molto agitato on the last beat of the 15th bar of D: the downbeat is
a boom and you come in loud! No hesitation. Here comes the low melody, which is marked
fortissimo dig into it in a strong, resonant low voice. Those first two phrases end with eighth
notes, so dont hang over. You also need to lift after the A# quarter five before E.
4. Five before F, if you look at my annotated part, you will see an upside down V on the second
triplet. This is my indicator for an unusual interval to watch out for; in this case the G to Bb. You
will see a few of these marked elsewhere on my part.
5. I use a standard two and two C# at the beginning of two before F, with the half hole key on the
first finger of the left hand. Here come the clef changes!
6. At the end of the third bar of G, I use the third partial open D, as it speaks more fluidly in a slur.
Just take off your left hand. I indicate third partial fingerings throughout the piece by a little o
above the note. You get a lot more centered volume out of these fingerings, at least on my
instrument.
7. Those triplets in the bar before K are fast, and run right into the big tutti at K, so dont be late by
overhanging the tied Bb before it.
8. 10 before L, you playing high and crescendoing from FF at the top of the horn. Here is the
highest note in the piece I use a third partial E with the throat A key. Soar!
9. Letter N is missing from the part. It should be 12 after M at the at the bassoon cue.
10. The first two bars are unison with the other clarinets at the 5th bar of N for two bars. Watch
your intonation. They are playing at the bottom of their horn and you are playing throat tones.
11. Make sure you crescendo from the C to the F at the Etwas breiter before O. It is marked to do
so, even though it feels like you should diminuendo at that cadence.
12. The quarters 2 before O and the 2nd and 3rd bars after O are all played marcato.
13. The Appassionato section at the double bar after O: Heres the fun part. Your conductor may
do a caesura there, and probably start up in 2. Youll spend a lot of time practicing this section
and then discover that you can barely be heard. But it is fun. Watch the clef changes, which
dont always make sense. A lot of these are with the horns, which are probably sitting nearby.
14. The first entrance here is with Clarinet 1. Listen for it.
15. 9th bar of Q the B# on the upbeat of the 3rd beat I play on the right F/C key and switch to the
left one but be fast youre playing with the horns and they are playing aggresively.
16. I use a third partial open Db on the Db arpeggio on the last note of the page (first finger of the
left hand) very facile and easy to slur. Then just mentally switch to throat Gb at R on the next
page without moving any fingers. Works great.
17. Rehearsal letter S is also missing from the part. It is the 13th bar of R. Watch the two 1/2 bars
after that. They will probably be conducted in one.
18. 7 before T. Off to the races! You cant play too loud here. Breathe where needed, but get a big
one before T. Watch the stringendo somewhere your conductor will switch to four in order to
control the slowdown.
19. The Tempo I low Bb at the 5th bar of T will likely be very broad in tempo, and you will be out of
air. I have a huge lung capacity, and I cant make the seven beats. Breathe where needed this
is extremely heavily orchestrated and nobody will notice where you breathe.
20. The phrase at 1 before U to the 2nd of U are unison with the other two clarinets. Watch your
intonation and make sure you all move together.
21. 9 before W (Sehr breit) the transfiguration theme and the resolution after the storm. Bask in
the extreme glory of why we love Richard Strauss and all of his bombastic glory! The figure at 7
before W is one of the great orgiastic climaxes of this piece.
22. But watch the stringendo 5 before W, but when that figure is over, center yourself, watch the
conductor carefully and clear your reed 1 before W is your biggest solo of the piece and they
even marked it this time! It is marked an accented mezzo forte. Dont be afraid to play it forte
and highly resonant dig into it. Strings are playing heartbeat below you. Strauss couldnt have
picked a better note for this on the bass clarinet (which is why we love him). You can back off
on the B natural.
23. Watch the conductor and the muted strings cue on the third bar. The entrance on the 5th bar is
with oboe and bassoons, so still be strong on this (not pp), but this time you have help.
24. 11th bar entrance after W is still accented but a bit less (and take a big breath. This goes right
into the next Allegro molto agitato like at the beginning of the piece, and again you will get a big
downbeat on the 4th beat right after the double bar. Boom and move! This one cant be
heard at all so your goal is just being in the right place.
25. Your entrance at 9 before Y is an octave below the Clarinet 1, so listen and match. Make sure
your G entrance in the second half of 7 before Y is gentle.
26. The transfiguration theme at 5 before Z crescendos into the second amazing climax of the piece,
even more so as Strauss has you playing up in the stratosphere two before Z. As indicated, I use
third partial open fingerings here for the D and C# so that you can soar into this heavenly (and
extremely loud) moment above and with the orchestra! Wow!
27. 5th bar after AA until the end is a lot of loud held notes, so prepared (at this point) to possibly be
tired. Dont expect to ever really get down to pianissimo, even though it is indicated, which
makes the five bars of tied whole notes after CC easier to play. On the final fermata, youre
playing the third of the chord (I use the fork fingering for additional resonance on my
instrument) and be prepared to play a mf or more on the final fermata to balance the clarinet
section coordinate with your 1st clarinetist on this.
28. Bask in the glory of your achievement of having performed one of the great Richard Strauss bass
clarinet parts!