The driving force behind this work was the bass clarinet itself, an instrument whose belated coming-of-age owes much in the UK to redoubtable exponent Sarah Watts. As an orchestral composer I have long given prominence to the instrument, whose versatility, range and expressive colour strengthen its case as ‘the cello’ of the wind family, but this is my first solo – or rather duo, since, like the cello, the bass clarinet cries out for the flexibility of chamber music: it is notable, for example, that in the orchestral context an early champion of the instrument, Wagner, cleared the orchestral decks to profile the distinctive dark voice of bass clarinet in chamber orchestrations, the better to partner its lugubrious expressivity with introspective soliloquies from the singer.

My piece, meanwhile, is markedly more animated, finding bass clarinet and piano outdoing one another in exuberance and agility. The title Minnesang, though derived from the courtly love poetry of the German Middle Ages, points less to the strict song-form of that tradition than to the celebration of love in art, and can best be translated as ‘love-singing’. The medieval minnesang had two ‘A’ verses and a longer ‘B’ verse or abgesang; my piece does loosely follow this geography, though a cascading introduction of about 30” precedes the first, jazzy ‘A’ section. This, like the ensuing second section, presents a febrile, nervous duo music that builds in intensity; the abgesang after the climax is a slow aria that is predominantly reflective, after the previous energy.

c Piers Hellawell 2011