Composed: Between 1947-1948
Premiered: November 6, 1950 – NBC Radio Symphony
Instrumentation: Solo clarinet, strings, harp, piano
Performance Time: 17 minutes
- Jazz clarinetist Benny Goodman commissioned and premiered the piece on radio with the NBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Fritz Reiner. Goodman also recorded it with Copland conducting.
- Though written specifically for his talents as a jazz clarinetist, Goodman found some of the technical demands challenged his confidence and he made alterations to the score. Copland agreed to them and it is that version that is generally heard today.
- There is no break between the two movements as they are linked by a virtuosic clarinet cadenza that also introduces themes that appear in the second movement.
- The first movement has a “bittersweet lyricism” that is typical of much of Copland’s work. He acknowledged it stemmed from his own feelings of being an “outsider”: a Jew and homosexual.
- The second movement is a free-flowing rondo with strong influences of the South American jazz he heard in Rio de Janeiro in 1947.
- “The instrumentation being clarinet with strings, harp, and piano, I did not have a large battery of percussion to achieve jazzy effects, so I used slapping basses and whacking harp sounds to simulate them. The Clarinet Concerto ends with a fairly elaborate coda in C major that finishes off with a clarinet glissando – or “smear” in jazz lingo.”
Though there are many recordings of what has become a repertory standard, truest is the Goodman-Copland collaboration: