Igor Stravinsky - The Firebird Suite (1919)

Variation video

On virtually every audition, Stravinsky's 1919 suite of his 1910 ballet The Firebird is a smaller orchestration than the original, but has much for the clarinet to do. After some fun duet bobbles alternating with bassoons and flutes in the Introduction, the real solos start with the last gesture from The Firebird and its Dance, and continue with The Variation of the Firebird. In the variation the first five bars are a true solo, and are played by the E-flat clarinet in the original. Be very accurate with your rhythm - it's easy to play the rests too long or too short, and the tempo is very fast.

From the first measure, I like to put a tiny stretch on the first note of the 32nd-note figures, and diminuendo as the scale ascends. This makes nice contrast to the printed upwards hairpin in the next figure. In the third bar, crescendo to the trill and dim. after it. This third bar trill is often marked as a whole-step, to D-natural. This is incorrect! It should be a half-step, to D-flat, as it is in the recap, third measure of 15. Continue this dynamic pattern throughout the movement.

From 11 on, the figures are tutti woodwinds and orchestra, but it is very important to be accurate. In the orchestra, any wrong notes or rhythms will muddy the transparent texture, and in an audition, they will be immediately apparent. A common rhythmic mistake is to play the 16th-note at number 12 too long. Practicing this movement with the metronome on 8th-notes will correct this and other rhythmic problems. When practicing for final play, put the metronome on dotted-quartet-notes, and accentuate the waltz feel in your head. This will help you to maintain a consistent tempo when playing by yourself.

The figures beginning at 14 should be the same as before, but this time get louder with each three-bar figure. 17 is tutti, but very difficult. I like using open D and 5th partial G (overblown high B) for the first figure. In the third measure, I use first finger C# followed by long (or 7th partial) F#. The best F#-G# trill is to play F# and trill the first finger of your right hand. I find this too awkward for me, so I do the fake trill of holding F# and trilling my left pinky on the C#/G# key. Don't use open D for the bar before 18 unless it is absolutely in tune and beautiful sounding. The penultimate bar is not a tremolo, but measured 32nd-notes. Make sure you play the right rhythm, and a great subito p.