Good day, readers! Welcome to Day ‘K’ of my ever-exciting October Alphabet Challenge. So far we have explored a range of different composers, all with unique styles and works, and I’d like to add to that by discussing Soviet composer, Alexander Krein and his work for clarinet quintet – Jewish Sketches. Enjoy!

Born in Russia in 1883, Krein and his family were surrounded by Jewish traditions. His father, Abram Krein, moved from Lithuania to Russia in 1870, was a well-known violinist. Krein was one of seven brothers, to which all of them became musicians due to having a father who was a recognised musician. At the tender age of 14, Krein gained a place at the prestigious Moscow Conservatory, where he studied composition with Sergei Taneyev and cello performance with Alexander von Glehn. Not an abundance of information is known about Krein and his life, other than he worked on a lot of official music admin positions. He is remembered largely for being the leader of a Jewish national school in Russia, which one of his brothers was also a part of. Krein also taught at his alma mater for some years after the 1917 Revolution. Krein died in 1951 in Russia.

Krein’s style can perhaps be described as a hybrid between traditional Jewish music (both secular and sacred) and French Impressionism. Like many composers of the time, Krein’s religion played a large role in his compositional processes. I would even go as far as to say it was a constant inspiration for him, with some works being obviously linked by just the title (i.e Jewish Sketches), and some being not so (i.e Aria for Violin and Piano). It can also be said that his style became an admixture of late-nineteenth century Russian classical traditions and French Impressionism, giving his music a unique voice.

Jewish Sketches was composed in 1909, and later published in 1914 and was dedicated to his parents. It is written for clarinet quintet (solo clarinet and string quartet, if you will), and from the outset it is clear where Krein has taken his inspiration from. The klezmer traditions were so prominent throughout his life, which is perhaps why this particular work is dedicated to his parents. Krein’s ability to go between different sounds is emphasised in this work, with the music being a balance of classical and klezmer traditions. Although the clarinet is the solo instrument, the accompaniment emphasises important melodic phrases, creates a sense of unity between the parts. This can be heard throughout the three movements of this work.

The first movement, Lento, is slow and mournful, and introduces us to Jewish folk melodies. The use of embellishments, especially in the solo part, gives us the cultural twang that we associate with this kind of traditional music.

The second movement, Andante, is started by the cello and then the clarinet joins in above the subtle tremolos from the strings. Soon after the first kernel of music is heard, the tempo changes and the next section explodes into a colourful mix of melodies and harmonies. There is a lot of light and shade in this movement, with Krein’s keen use of dramatic dynamics.

The finale movement, Allegro moderato, begins with a jaunty dance motif with the clarinet and violin. The feel of dance is then taken through this movement, and the exciting coda section makes for a fantastic and powerful ending to this culturally exploratory work.

Alexander Krein’s Jewish Sketches for clarinet quintet is exciting due to Krein’s unique style. The ease of moving between traditions is so subtle that you sometimes may not even notice it! An exciting composer with a catalogue of fantastic works – a great way to celebrate Day ‘K’ of my October Alphabet Challenge!

Happy Reading!

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