Felix Mendelssohn - Symphony No. 3 in a minor, Op. 56 "Scottish"

Second movement solo video

Both this symphony and the Hebrides Overture were written about a trip Mendelssohn took to Scotland. Everywhere you turn in this piece there are exposed clarinet passages, though usually only the second movement is asked for on auditions.

The solos begin right at the beginning of the Allegro of the first movement with the clarinet an octave below the first violins. I recommend using your sound to color the violins rather than drawing attention to yourself. Be present with your sound, but don't hog the music. There were reportedly rough seas during Mendelssohn's trip, and they are depicted marvelously in this movement. Play with maximum expression and make all the sudden changes quite dramatic. A good example of a place where you can be very expressive is after letter C. The hairpin should be dramatic, but save a little to make the next hairpin even more dramatic. The second statement of the motive is higher and with a cresc. Attention to these details is of paramount importance.

The second movement is a dance. The strings are playing repeated sixteenth notes on the same pitches, and it is impossible to find the beat. If the conductor is good he will understand this and be clear for you, but try your best to be on time. It is easy to rush this solo in general, and particularly easy during the dotted-eighth/sixteenth rhythm - be steady. It is Vivace, but also non troppo and the metronome marking is correct and not terribly fast. The first two notes of the solo are very important and the basis of the whole theme. Practice the ascending fourth alone for a while to get the proper feeling and to be aware that the seven notes that follow the G are merely an embellishment of it. This will also help you to play a true sixteenth-note pickup instead of something shorter, which is a tendency. The musical motion in this solo should always be forward (but not rushing forward). Crescendo slightly through the first four bars of the solo as you head to the cadence in the fifth bar. Accent the D in the fifth bar since it is the arrival, not the B. With nuance, follow the contours of the line in these 5 bars and the next 4 a bit, making subtle differences in each sixteenth/dotted-eighth note group. Space of about a sixteenth note between them will help the nuance while not destroying the over-all line. The second phrase can of course get higher in volume as you go up to a B now. Also be sure to make a clear articulation between the two Ds at the end of this phrase so they don't run together. When starting the third phrase, it is a good idea to start in a smaller p than you even began the solo with. The strings have pizzicato moving toward the cadence of this phrase and crescendoing with them is nice. The fourth phrase can be more triumphant, and will lead to the longer passage that follow better if you cresc. nearly up to the f at the end of 9 bars before letter A.

This passage must be heard above all of the business going on below you, so play a meaty f. It begins with that ascending fourth again, so make the listener aware of it by being bold with your pickup and arrival note. The hairpins should be big, and the indications for dim. and cresc. dramatic and strictly adhered to. It is easy to lose count during the long notes. The second statement of this theme (beginning 8 bars after A) needs to be even louder. Observe the sf and make bigger hairpins and sail your ff above the whole orchestra. This is where about half of the auditions stop you, but not where the difficulties end.

Four measures later, you have a rather tricky passage in unison with the 'cellos. Be careful not to rush the pickup notes, and save some volume for the piu f, and the end of the passage. Following that, you have a full 16 measures to agonize over your next entrance. Here again, it is easy to get lost. Like the passage in the Midsummer's Scherzo, it is best to play this pp entrance with very little air in your lungs. This will allow you to float into the mix at a true pp and very short. The accents are sharp and very important and every note not slurred must be short, nearly pecky. The second and third bars of C need to be brought up above the rest for just a bit, and accordingly, have been marked p. 6 bars after C be careful of rushing over the next 7 or 8 bars. No auditions ever go beyond this point.

D is merely a test of your tongue's endurance. E is little excerpts of the dance coming in and out of the texture. Here it is of particular importance to be exactly in time and not to rush the pickup note. 10 after E is a little duet for clarinets. Be sure to leave enough space to make your grace notes heard even though you should play them as quickly as you can. A little accent on the grace-notes will help them pop out better. You end the movement with a recollection of the theme that should be very sweet and simple, but still with all the markings observed (sf and accents).

The third movement gives great opportunities for expression, such as in 9 bars before D when the orchestra cuts out leaving you and the second clarinet to play a lovely arpeggio dim. Stretch this as much as the conductor will let you. Beginning in the sixth bar after F you have two little solos in counterpoint to the rest of the orchestra that must be heard. Sneak in on the G and grow quickly out of the texture before you make an expressive interval to the high C and continue your cresc. downward. Don't get lost in the texture as you descend. The same goes for the next two bars.

The last movement is more sudden dynamic changes and shocks - be observant. The sixteenth notes should be played quite close to the dotted-eighths, which should be a little short. The double dotted quarters should always be long. The motive in 10 before G is best done with a pressure accent and a crying or wailing sound. The last page of the piece starts with a long and very exposed duet with the Bassoon. Be expressive and sad. You and the bassoon will alternate melody and harmony in the latter half of the duet, melody being indicated by measures with hairpins in them. Yield to the bassoon when you have the harmony, and base the level of your pp ending on proper balance with their pp (though it is nice when you can both fade to nothing by the end).