John Gordon Armstrong

Canadian Composer

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Improvisations and Interludes

Notes from the composer

Improvisations and Interludes was inspired by an exhibition of Australian Aboriginal Art at the Seay Gallery, Harvard University in the Spring of 1990. In these pieces I have tried to capture the same expression of intensity with minimal tools. The music, like the art, is highly recursive, but no gesture is repeated exactly. I have also tried to avoid the “pleasant (one might say banal) diatonicism” characteristic of much minimal music; the language is highly chromatic and, at times, almost “Babbitt-like” in its precompositional complexity. The title is somewhat misleading. There is no real improvisation in this music but textures used are ones with which I have experimented while improvising. The interludes are miniatures which act both as transitions and reflections of the larger movements.

This is a brutally difficult piece! I have been told that only clarinettists who have serious experience with 20th century music should attempt it, but it is strange and interesting and like nothing else you’ve ever heard. Notwithstanding the difficulty, it’s one of my very favourite pieces. If you like new music that’s tight but eclectic, you will like this piece. If you are an analyst, I challenge you to figure out how Improvisation 2 works!

Improvisations and Interludes was commissioned by Robert Riseling and Alan Torok and premiered Jan. 22, 1991, in the Recital Hall at the University of Western Ontario.

The performance below is from the late 1990’s by Pascale Lafrance, clarinet and Keenan Comartin, guitar. For a quick sampling, just play the interludes. They reflect the larger movements in reverse order. I think “Perpetuum Mobile” is my favourite.

Composed in 1990 for clarinet and guitar
Five Movements and Four Interludes
Duration: 17 minutes
Very Difficult/Abstract

1. “Fanfare”


Interlude 1


2. “Perpetuum Mobile”


Interlude 2


3. “Meditation”


Interlude 3


4. “Trading Breaks”


Interlude 4


5. Lullaby