Ropes Course is a solo work for B-flat clarinet composed on commission as an exploration of the altissimo register. It was composed in 2018-2019 for Olivia Meadows as part of a doctoral thesis project to create a program of study in new unaccompanied solos for clarinet that assist students in bridging the gap into advanced works for the instrument.
A ropes course is an outdoor recreational obstacle course consisting of ropes or cables strung from trees or utility poles. Supported by climbing harnesses and other safety gear, participants climb, navigate, and even race through a sophisticated web of ropes, logs, tires, and towers. This work for solo clarinet is composed with four distinct sections, each portraying an aspect of this elevated experience. The work opens by “climbing, exploring” the course, gradually ascending into the altissimo register by means of the G blues scale. After reaching the top, the player is “dangling, lazily” in the upper register, weaving through the C blues scale in a relaxed and slower compound meter. After climbing again, the soloist is “off to the races” in D minor, navigating rapid sixteenth-note figures, accent patterns, and interspersed chromatic runs. With one misstep, the player is “falling, freely” through whole tone and chromatic scales back to the lower registers, supported safely by the climbing harness. After a little more time “dangling, more lazily,” the soloist makes “one last climb” into the altissimo register for a final climax to the adventure.
Gottry certainly hits the mark in exploring the altissimo register of the clarinet as it soars up to altissimo A. As the title implies, this piece takes the performer through a challenging obstacle course, but in a way with more gratification than from the typical etude. Ropes Course is recommended for an advanced player looking to expand their range and potentially shine in an unaccompanied moment. – Lee Seidner
Printed by permission of the International Clarinet Association