Maxim, Christopher: Here be Dragons! for Clarinet and Piano
Though much to be feared, dragons by definition are rarely encountered, living at the furthest corners of the known world, or further even than that. As Bilbo Baggins discovered, to go in search of one can be an epic journey; and though Christopher Maxim, composer of the popular Toccata Nuptiale for organ, does not reveal whether Smaug, or Fafner, or the dragon slain by Saint George, is the particular beast in view, Here be Dragons! has the dramatic atmosphere of an adventure to remote and mythical places. Darkly chromatic roulades for clarinet, perhaps the creature’s fiery breath, set the scene for an exciting duet on a gripping theme that stalks through the music in a variety of menacing variations, including a dragonish fugue. In the energetic arpeggios and trills that embellish the tune there is much for players of around Grade 8 standard to relish, in a showpiece that will undoubtedly lend enchantment to any concert.
The world première can be enjoyed on YouTube here…
Here be Dragons! was originally composed for double bass an piano and was, almost immediately, adapted for clarinet in A, the version premièred by Antonia Mott on 21 march 2014. It was further adapted for clarinet in B flat at the request of Stainer & Bell. Lasting around seven minutes, this is a lovely showpiece full of colourful writing. Embellished scales and arpeggios are a particular feature, with some interesting chromatic writing.
Following a mysterious opening, during which the dragon seems to awaken gradually with rising an falling chromatic scales, the main 6/8 theme is dancelike and energetic in mood, though moderately paced. It passes through a variety of keys and there is a spooky fugue-like passage part way through.
Rhythmically it is fairly straightforward with some repetition, and the highest not is D flat just above the stave. Described as a piece for approximately Grade 8 players, my feeling is that it could easily be enjoyed by Grade 6-7 players too.
Carol Taylor (Clarinet & Saxophone Magazine)
Christopher Maxim originally composed this work for double bass and piano, but soon he edited it for clarinet and piano. In this form, the piece was premiered in 2013. At the request of publisher Stainer & Bell it was edited again: for B flat clarinet and piano.
The title ‘Here be Dragons’ comes from cartography. In the production of the early world maps, the creators often lacked detailed data on parts of the earth. Sometimes they drew ‘fabulous’ animals, such as dragons and other monsters, in a white spot on the map. Since then, the term ‘Here be Dragons’ has become a household name for the unknown or the dangerous.
‘Here be dragons!’ begins with an exciting opening, in which the clarinettist plays dark chromatic movements, perhaps represents the awakening dragon. The main theme that follows is, contrary to what you might expect, an almost sweet and dance-like melody in a quiet 6/8 movement. This colourful melody goes on an adventure through remote places, in search of that one dragon, who sometimes suddenly comes around the corner. The theme returns frequently and is occasionally interrupted by dangerous situations, where you would feel the dragon’s hot breath in the omens.
When the danger has passed, the theme returns again and again, sometimes in a duet or fugue with the piano. The composer’s love for the clarinet is reflected in the choice of well-fitting timbres in the right range. Rhythmically, there is not a lot of challenge. If you have already mastered the scales and triads, the piece is easy to study in a short time.
On the composer’s website you can find a recording, played by Antonia Mott on clarinet and the composer himself on piano. The piece lasts about 7 minutes and the difficulty level is between B- and C-level.
Christopher Maxim has written other works for clarinet and piano and also a number of clarinet duets. They can also be found on his website: www.christophermaxim.co.uk
de Klarinet, Nov-Dec 2020