Heavenly Pleasures is a set of four short pieces for clarinet based on one of my favourite clarinet solos: the opening of the last movement of Mahler’s 4th Symphony. In this movement, Mahler sets a poem ‘Das himmlische Leben’ (The Heavenly Life) from Des Knaben Wunderhorn. The poem opens with the line ‘Wir genießen die himmlischen Freuden’ (translated by Deryck Cooke as ‘We revel in heavenly pleasures’) and goes on to describe a diverse range of the attractions heaven has to offer. The middle two movements take as their starting points specific lines in the poem. ‘Veils’ draws upon the phrase ‘Elftausend Jungfrauen / Zu tanzen sich trauen!’ (‘Eleven thousand virgins / Are set dancing.’), and makes an additional reference to the Dance of the Seven Veils, the famous striptease dance from Strauss’ opera Salome. ‘Asparagus’ tries (and, inevitably, fails) to evoke a different, culinary type of pleasure. The outer two movements, ‘Frolic’ and ‘Invocation’, evoke the mood of the poem in a more general sense.
Much of the melodic material in Heavenly Pleasures is derived from Mahler’s melody. Sometimes the melody is very hidden, and sometimes it is stated much more overtly. I hope to have channelled the spirit of the original music while taking it to new, unexpected places.
Commission: ‘Invocation’ was commissioned by BBC Radio 3 for their Postcards from Composers project; ‘Frolic’ was commissioned by the Royal Academy of Music for their 200 Pieces project.
1 – Frolic
2 – Veils
3 – Asparagus
4 – Invocation
8th March 2022
David Josefowitz Recital Hall, Royal Academy of Music
28th May 2020
John Bradbury (Clarinet)
Recording of ‘Invocation’ played three times on BBC Radio 3