Jean Sibelius - Symphony No. 1


This Symphony opens with a two minute clarinet solo, first accompanied by a timpani roll, then alone. It is very expressive and reminds me of the icy desolation of northern Finland. In both the orchestra and at an audition, you can play real and soft dynamics, making the most of the clarinet's wide range, especially at the softer end. Conductors cannot agree on the tempo that this opening should go, varying from 80 to 144 for the quarter-note. I like 100, but listen to a variety of recordings, and consider what the orchestra or conductor you are working with or auditioning for is used to. Nuanced inflections of color and/or dynamic changes on tied downbeats can help show the syncopation of the rhythm, which in spite of being free, must be apparent.

Begin with a bold statement, but a lamenting demeanor. Linger on the E-flat and head dynamically towards the D. Relax into the B-flat and imitate in the second phrase, relaxing further all the way down to the F, which should feel like a place of rest and home. Phrase the following cresc. through the rests as you head towards the A half-note, which is the arrival point, not the B-flat. Dim. and keep stricter rhythm here so the audience can feel the relationships between the triplet half-notes and the rest. Make sure there is some phrase separation between the two final Ds by playing the beginning of the second louder than the end of the first - in other words, with a broad stress accent even the VERY soft dynamic you should be at by now.

Relax for the fermata. I like the second half to start a little freer rhythmically than the firs half was. Make this first phrase one big gesture, and as you descend, show that the F whole-note that starts the second phrase is the natural result and continuation of the scale at the end of the first phrase. Then grow out of it in a softer imitation of the opening. Be very careful not to get too sharp on all of these soft, softening, low notes. Shade with fingers and keys to avoid an airy sound. We want to hear the core of your sound as you go to ppp and beyond, putting everyone on the edge of their seats. Slow down and relax into your final note and fade away.

The third movement Scherzo is quite fast, and has some challenging articulated passages that are often on auditions. Play the dotted-half-note equal to at least 88, and hopefully faster. Be playful with your two-bar interjection seven after A, and in the corresponding place after N. The pp passage after E is very hard because of the dynamic and the "long" note on which it starts. Support like mad, but don't fill your lungs too full - you don't need a lot of air to finish this, and too much air will interfere with the dynamic. The sforzandi should be there and cheeky, but not overwhelm the line. Continuing to the next page, it is difficult to maintain the shortness without sounding rough. Keep a light tongue in spite of the volume and don't get an edge to the sound. The cresc. that follows goes all the way to four before G, so keep the cresc. going even after the final sforzando. G is sometimes where the audition stops or 12 bars later. Play big but not ugly in the ff, and be very precise with the quarter and eighth-note ratios in the final gesture. It's easy to distort it.