Alexander Krein: Jewish Sketches
Born in Russia in 1883, Alexander Krein and his family were surrounded by Jewish traditions. His father, Abram Krein, moved from Lithuania to Russia in 1870 and was a well-known violinist. Krein was one of seven brothers, all of whom became musicians due to their music surroundings whilst growing up. 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.
Jewish Sketches was composed in 1909, and was later published in 1914. It was dedicated to his Jewish parents. Composed for clarinet quintet it is clear where Krein has taken his inspiration from. 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 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.
III. Allegro moderato
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.