No. 1: À la mémoire des années que Strawinsky a vécu au Lac Léman, op. 10/1 (1983)

For three clarinets in Bb
Duration: ca. 18 minutes

Premiere of the two minuets: March 26, 2011 in St. Otmar (Vienna) by the »ensemble clarinettissimo« (Stefan Neubauer, Michael Dominik, Thomas Obermüller)
Premiere: June 7, 2017 at Alte Schmiede Kunstverein, Wien, by the »ensemble clarinettissimo« (Stefan Neubauer, Michael Dominik, Thomas Obermüller)

Reading a musicological work about Mozart’s serenades and divertimentos, and a stay of almost five years in the Swiss UN city Geneva: these were equally involved in bringing forth one of the composer’s first large-scale cyclical projects. The time in Geneva was devoted to intensive study of classical and modern masterworks. Dozens of ideas for new works appeared, which then, due to changing living circumstances, could not be further developed. Such changes ultimately account for the many fragments in the composer’s oeuvre.

Two of the planned Divertissements Suisses have been completed. Sections and movements of two others were sketched and composed, the fifth divertissement had to wait until 1994.

The first of these Divertissements Suisses was composed in autumn 1983 and took its inspiration from proximity to the place by Lake Geneva that had served Igor Stravinsky as refuge during the First World War—whereby classicism in general also influenced the piece. The five-movement work for three clarinets contains not only numerous references to the music of Stravinsky, but also to Staar’s own Sonatine op. 2, composed six years earlier, which is also written for three clarinets. Two minuets, a two-part song form, and a rondo thoroughly follow the 250-year-old tradition of the Viennese classical divertimento, whereby the use of intervals and the structural working-out already present in op. 2 are taken to a higher level. Compared to the earlier Sonatine, this work evidences a richer conception and realization with further developed means of composition.

In this context it is not surprising that Staar’s first orchestral work, the Movimientos para Don José Haydn op. 8, formally built like Haydn’s Symphony No. 88, was composed in the same year. But the intervallic thinking in the Divertissement leads into a process of harmonic innovation and through this becomes a marker of personal style.

In the Divertissement Nr. 1 (as in the Sonatine) there is a motto that displays astounding similarities to the earlier work, albeit with substantial conceptual differences. The three-note motto figure of the Sonatine, made up of a whole step and a half step is taken up again, however not horizontally but rather vertically, as harmony.  The tones alternate with an identical structure lying a major third above.

This appears in a new variant, an inversion, which in contrast to the narrowness of the Sonatine substantially expands the intervallic dimension. This also affects the working through of the motives and themes, as well as the more complex rhythmic formation of the later piece. Other connections to the Sonatine can be found, for example legato structures in narrow intervals that (particularly in the final rondo) are used as contrast to sections with wide staccato leaps. The associations to Stravinsky are clearly evident, particularly in the third movement, where the reminiscence of an idea from Le Sacre du Printemps is combined with a chorale related to Le Histoire du Soldat. Passages with tone repetitions and the building of rhythmic cells are further elements of the Divertissement that refer to Stravinsky. While these are not concrete quotations, perusing Staar’s works from this period allows one to recognize the composer’s very close creative relation to his models.