Paolo Marchettini: Ebony Chants

, composer


Composer and clarinetist Paolo Marchettini releases his second album with New Focus, Ebony Chants, evoking the rich wood that is used in clarinet construction. The recording includes solo works alongside music for multiple clarinets and highlights Marchettini's subtle, lyrical compositional voice. Marchettini strikes an engaging balance between experimental elements such as the use of microtones and extended techniques, and more traditional material, performing the works with elegance and virtuosity.


# Audio Title/Composer(s) Performer(s) Time
Total Time 60:53
01Due Canti: I. Il canto del giorno
Due Canti: I. Il canto del giorno
Paolo Marchettini, clarinet, Meng Zhang, clarinet, Ka Hei Chan, clarinet3:15

Cinque Oracoli

Paolo Marchettini, clarinet
Paolo Marchettini, clarinet2:07
Paolo Marchettini, clarinet1:26
Paolo Marchettini, clarinet1:38
Paolo Marchettini, clarinet1:48
Paolo Marchettini, clarinet1:45

Preludio e Corrente

Meng Zhang, clarinet, Paolo Marchettini, clarinet, Ka Hei Chan, clarinet, Tommy Shermulis, bass clarinet
07I. Preludio
I. Preludio
Meng Zhang, clarinet, Paolo Marchettini, clarinet, Ka Hei Chan, clarinet, Tommy Shermulis, bass clarinet2:30
08II. Corrente
II. Corrente
Meng Zhang, clarinet, Paolo Marchettini, clarinet, Ka Hei Chan, clarinet, Tommy Shermulis, bass clarinet4:49
Paolo Marchettini, clarinet4:10

Cinque Fanfare Napoletane

Meng Zhang, clarinet, Paolo Marchettini, clarinet, Ka Hei Chan, clarinet
10I. Fanfara on “Torna a Surriento”
I. Fanfara on “Torna a Surriento”
Meng Zhang, clarinet, Paolo Marchettini, clarinet, Ka Hei Chan, clarinet1:30
11II. Fanfara on “Santa Lucia”
II. Fanfara on “Santa Lucia”
Meng Zhang, clarinet, Paolo Marchettini, clarinet, Ka Hei Chan, clarinet0:59
12III. Fanfara on “Fenesta che lucive”
III. Fanfara on “Fenesta che lucive”
Meng Zhang, clarinet, Paolo Marchettini, clarinet, Ka Hei Chan, clarinet1:42
13IV. Fanfara on “’A vucchella”
IV. Fanfara on “’A vucchella”
Meng Zhang, clarinet, Paolo Marchettini, clarinet, Ka Hei Chan, clarinet2:07
14V. Fanfara on “Funiculí funiculà”
V. Fanfara on “Funiculí funiculà”
Meng Zhang, clarinet, Paolo Marchettini, clarinet, Ka Hei Chan, clarinet1:59

Three Sketches

Paolo Marchettini, clarinet
Paolo Marchettini, clarinet1:35
Paolo Marchettini, clarinet1:25
Paolo Marchettini, clarinet1:36
Meng Zhang, clarinet, Paolo Marchettini, clarinet, Ka Hei Chan, clarinet, Tommy Shermulis, bass clarinet2:22
19Music of Color
Music of Color
Paolo Marchettini, clarinets, Tommy Shermulis, bass clarinet3:11
Tommy Shermulis, bass clarinet3:24
21Nec Clari
Nec Clari
Paolo Marchettini, clarinets6:17
Paolo Marchettini, clarinet7:26
23Due Canti: II. Il canto della notte
Due Canti: II. Il canto della notte
Paolo Marchettini, clarinet, Meng Zhang, clarinet, Ka Hei Chan, clarinet1:52

On Ebony Chants, Rome born, New York based composer and clarinetist Paolo Marchettini turns his attention to his own instrument and the rich catalog of works he has written for it in solo and ensemble settings. The music is colorful and varied, demonstrating Marchettini’s versatility composing in different aesthetic contexts. Allusions to multiple eras and styles of music are seamlessly integrated in music that is natural and always breathes. What is more, his performances as a solo player and in ensemble settings with his colleagues are virtuosic, precise, and heartfelt.

The album opens with the first movement of Due Canti (2022) for clarinet trio, “Il canto de giorno”, which itself starts with a poignant solo soliloquy. When the other two clarinets join, it is on a moderate trill that transforms itself into an effervescent backdrop for an expansive melody in a higher register.

Cinque Oracoli (2022) is a five movement work for solo clarinet, and contains some of the most experimental material on the album. Somber melodic figures bloom into quietly luminescent multiphonics. Subtle quarter-tone inflections facilitate sighing descending lines, off-color oscillating figures, and expressive micro-appoggiaturas. The fourth movement features a modular approach to motive, truncating and expanding a gesture that includes odd groupings and accented intervallic leaps. The final movement is based around a repeated ritualistic two note figure, as Marchettini injects delicate life into a series of multiphonics.

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The opening movement of Preludio e Corrente (2009) for clarinet quartet is tentative and searching, with several questioning phrases that pause before reaching a conclusion. The “Corrente” features driving rhythmic material as the clarinets divide into pairs and play interlocking figures highlighting closely spaced intervals. The unrelenting drive is interrupted as the instruments float around one another, settle into a chorale texture, and make space for a solo turn of phrase in the bass clarinet. The vigorous pulsation returns briefly to a hybrid melodic line that passes through the quartet and ascends into the high register in one clarinet, punctuated lightly by two final chords in the ensemble.

Prayer (2011) for solo clarinet is a somber plea for peace. An insistent bass note supports a repeated flourish and as the piece develops, the register ascends and the material becomes increasingly impassioned. The work ends with flutter tongue and multiphonic techniques that draw us into the sound of the clarinet, a meditation in service of a prayer.

Cinque Fanfare Napoletane (2020) for clarinet trio uses five Neapolitan songs as source material, not for transcriptions, but as a jumping off point for original music. The pieces have a light folkloric quality, reveling in characteristic rhythms and gestures, which Marchettini sprinkles with dry humor. The set closes with “Fanfara on ‘Funiculí funiculà,’” with the famous melody reharmonized as if it was a theme in a late Impressionistic work.

Three Sketches (2010) for solo clarinet is motivically driven, spinning out an idea for each movement in a compelling display of the instrument’s capabilities in a solo context. The second sketch is a dialogue between mezzo-forte and extremely quiet sotto voce figures, creating a kind of dynamic counterpoint. In the final movement, an ominous percussive pulse is heard throughout, with occasional hiccups in the rhythm, accompanying a furtive clarinet line.

Epitaffio (2022) for clarinet quartet is solemn, as undulating, close interval phrases are dotted by unsettling staccato attacks. Music of Color (2020) for multiple overdubbed clarinets is a kind of a color field piece, as layers of independent percolating activity fuse to create an amalgam. A leitmotif in the solo B-flat clarinet reasserts itself throughout, as gruff bass clarinet grumbling establishes the work’s persistent expressive dichotomy.

Entrée (2006) for solo bass clarinet, played here by Tommy Shermulis, is a peripatetic work, anxiously flitting from one angular phrase to another. The energy of the piece diffuses towards the end, allowing silence into the texture as an increasingly active voice in the fabric. Like Music of Color, Nec Clari (2006) establishes an expressive mood through independent repetition of similar material, painting a cloud of ambiguous harmonic and gestural activity.

Tratto (2016, rev. 2019) returns to the solo clarinet form, and is the longest single movement solo work in the collection, and as such takes more time developing than several of the shorter works on the album. Reflective material opens the work, becoming more annunciatory and then more active before retreating to the inward facing material of the opening. Ebony Chants closes with the final movement of Due Canti, “Il canto della notte,” a beautifully lyrical coda to this rich and understated collection of clarinet music.

– Dan Lippel

Due Canti, Preludio e Corrente, Cinque Fanfare Napoletane and Epitaffio recorded at Myers Recording Studio, Manhattan School of Music, New York, NY; Mie Hirschfield, recording engineer
Prayer recorded in Greenfield Hall, Manhattan School of Music, New York, NY; Dan Rorke, recording engineer
Cinque Oracoli, Three Sketches and Tratto recorded at Q Recording Studio, Milano, Italy Antonio Nappo, recording engineer
Music of Color and Entrée recorded in The Solomon Mikowsky Recital Hall, Manhattan School of Music, New York, NY; Meng Zhang, recording engineer
Nec Clari was recorded at Sasha Barbot Studio, New York, NY; Sasha Barbot, recording engineer

Executive Producer: Paolo Marchettini
Mixing and mastering: Meng Zhang
Post-production advisor: Daniel Lippel

Cover Art: Eva Redamonti
Design and Layout: Marc Wolf,

Paolo Marchettini plays a Patricola clarinet

Paolo Marchettini

Composer, clarinetist, and pianist, Paolo Marchettini is a native of Rome, Italy. With a wide catalog of works including orchestral, choral, vocal and chamber music, his music has been commissioned and performed by an array of international festivals including the Biennale di Venezia (Venice), PlayIt! Festival (Florence), Festival Berio (Rome), Nuova Consonanza (Rome), Villecroze (France), Baki Contempo Festivali (Azerbaijan) and others. In 2005 he was a prizewinner in the prestigious Queen Elisabeth Competition for his Violin Concerto, while his piece Mercy for orchestra won the 2012 PlayIt! Festival prize as best symphonic piece of the year.

His music has been performed by such orchestras and ensembles as the Orchestra Regionale Toscana, Orchestra Haydn, Orchestra Roma Sinfonietta, Orchestra di Santa Cecilia, the Sofia Radio Symphony Orchestra, Algoritmo Ensemble, and Freon Ensemble, and broadcasted by Vatican Radio, Rai Radiotre, Swiss Radio, BR - Bayer Rundfunk Munich, and Radio Berlin-Brandenburg. As an active and accomplished clarinetist, he has performed as soloist with orchestras in both Europe and the United States, and collaborated directly with many distinguished composers including Goffredo Petrassi, Luciano Berio, Salvatore Sciarrino, Ennio Morricone, and Sylvano Bussotti. Marchettini holds a doctorate in composition from the Manhattan School of Music. He studied composition, choral music, choral conducting, and clarinet at the Conservatorio and Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in his native Rome and graduated with honors from Tor Vergata University in Rome with a degree in Arts, Music, and Show Disciplines. His teachers included Ivan Vandor, Azio Corghi, Richard Danielpour, Luciano Pelosi, and Claudio Dall’ Albero.

His music is published by Edizioni Curci, and Raitrade. In 2021 he released the album The Months Have Ends on New Focus Recordings with his orchestral works. This album received great reviews, and it has been presented by both American and European radio stations. He is the only Italian composer in history to have published an entire cycle of 24 preludes and fugues in all keys. He served as Assistant Professor of Composition at the Berklee College of Music (Boston), and currently teaches in the Theory Department at the Manhattan School of Music (New York).




Clarinetist Paolo Marchettini has his own solution to the relative paucity of music for solo clarinet: he writes some himself, then performs it. His new CD for New Focus Recordings is all-clarinet – actually all-clarinets, plural, since it includes not only solo pieces but also ones for as many as four clarinets. This disc shows Marchettini (born 1974) being quite conversant with 21st-century compositional techniques as well as with the capabilities of his chosen instrument. An hour-plus of this material is, however, a bit much – non-clarinetists may wish to sample the (+++) disc instead of listening to it straight through. But certainly the CD shows how much can be communicated in contemporary terms by the clarinet, whether as a solo or in a group. The solo pieces are scattered throughout the disc. Cinque Oraculi (2022) includes five short pieces written with quarter-tones and calling on varying approaches to melody and rhythm – the contrast with the far more melodic Five Anecdotes by Segovia is notable on multiple levels, not just that of the differing instrumental qualities. Prayer (2011) is quiet, meditative and less experimental-sounding than Cinque Oraculi,although it calls on some similar performance techniques. Three Sketches (2010) consists of three minute-and-a-half displays of specific elements of clarinet sound and technique. Tratto(2016/2019) is more extended and makes a greater attempt to explore some of the clarinet’s emotionally evocative capabilities. There is also an interesting short work for solo bass clarinet (played by Tommy Shermulis):

Entrée (2006) is a series of disconnected fragments showing the instrument in multiple registers and with multiple sounds, not all of them particularly pleasant. As for the multi-clarinet works here, one of them both opens and closes the CD: the first movement of Due Canti (2022), for clarinet trio, starts the recital, and the second movement concludes it. The opening piece begins as a solo and then becomes more expansive as the other clarinets join, while the closing one starts with all three instruments and becomes more expressively lyrical than most of the other works on the disc. The other music on the CD mixes clarinets (and sometimes bass clarinet) in varying ways. Preludio e Corrente(2009) for clarinet quartet has one stop-and-go movement and one that contrasts constant motion with an occasional broader passage. Cinque Fanfare Napoletane (2020) for clarinet trio is light, pleasant and somewhat more readily accessible than much of the rest of the disc, being based on Neapolitan songs that become the foundation for various brief flights of fancy. Epitaffio (2022) for clarinet quartet is in part suitably solemn, in part staccato, in totality rather meandering. There are also two works for clarinet ensemble, meaning multiple clarinets overdubbed onto themselves. Music of Color (2020) and Nec Clari (2006) are both sound clouds, the former more hectic and the latter quieter and more expressive. This is a self-limited recording in the sense that it will really appeal only to listeners fascinated by solo and multiple clarinets and by ways of using the instrument within a thoroughly modern context that is frequently at odds with the clarinet’s typical rich tone and emotive capabilities. Clarinetists themselves will find much of interest here if they are looking for something new for their own explorations of their instrument. Other listeners will likely be somewhat bemused, if not over-saturated, if they listen to the disc in its totality.

— Mark Estren, 4.27.2024



The Italian composer and clarinetist Paolo Marchettini wrote these assorted chamber
works for clarinet between 2006 and 2022; the album, titled Ebony Chants, is the follow-up to a
New Focus release in 2021 that featured larger works, not all with clarinet. There, one read
extravagant praise for Marchettini from his former teacher, Richard Danielpour, who called him
“arguably one of the greatest Italian composers alive today.” Such a fulsome endorsement can
raise expectations and skepticism at the same time. Marchettini was educated in his
native Rome as well as the Manhattan School in New York.

Of the 11 works on the program, four were composed for solo clarinet, while the rest
could be described as a cappella clarinets, varying in strength from a clarinet trio to an entire
ensemble, the latter overdubbed with one or two players performing all the voices. The composer
appears in all but a single solo piece, Entrée, which is given to bass clarinetist Tommy
Shermulis. (For the sake of simplicity, I haven’t sorted out who plays what in the headnote;
Marchettini’s colleagues overlap in most of the pieces.) His writing is compact enough that the
23 tracks on the disc take only an hour.

Marchettini currently teaches at the Manhattan School, which doesn’t signal that he always aims to be
up-to-the-minute contemporary. It is possible in this collection to encounter an experimental work like Cinque Oracoli,
which employs multiphonics, quarter tones, and what the program notes describe as “expressive micro-
appoggiaturas.” What is most contemporary about Marchettini’s style is its eclecticism, which
renders him free to write the wistful romantic melody that begins “Il canto del giorno,” the first
of his Due Canti. Unlike the norm in New Music, Marchettini often adheres to a recognizable
mood, as in the somber Prayer dedicated to peace, where extended techniques softly decorate the
lyrical line.

This grounding in distinct feelings helps to pull the listener in, but just as appealing is the
sense of dignity and modesty in Marchettini’s expression. He seems to prefer subtlety above all,
to the point that his ear is engaged by combining the same identical timbres from three or more
clarinets; a contrasting timbre is only occasionally added through bass clarinet. A lovely example
is the two-minute Epitaffio, a quartet aptly described in the notes as “solemn, as undulating, close
interval phrases are dotted by unsettling staccato attacks.”

This kind of gentle, frequently understated acoustic music depends on its moodiness and
close listening to details—everything feels minutely and carefully stitched. Technology appears
in the overdubbed clarinet ensemble encountered in Nec Clari, its intertwined lines performed
by Marchettini. Here an allusion is made in the booklet to Jackson Pollock’s action painting,
along with a sample of Marchettini’s squiggly, multi-colored score. An agitated improvisatory
solo clarinet jitters in the foreground while “a rite of passage from one chord to another [moves]
through chaos.” In typical fashion the chaos feels like flickering brushstrokes rather than
apocalypse. A second overdubbed ensemble, the bustling, chattering Music of Color, sounds for
all the world like the Shrovetide Fair from Petrushka turned on its head. It features Shermulis on
bass clarinet alongside Marchettini.

I’ve provided only a selective cross-section of a program that is surprisingly varied and
entertaining, given that we hear an hour of clarinets only. It’s probably best to listen in groups of
three or four pieces, although I can see approaching Ebony Chants as a single arc of
kaleidoscopic sounds. Either way, this is New Music at its most accessible without sacrificing
ingenious contemporary touches and extended techniques.

Five stars: A surprise success in enjoyable contemporary pieces for clarinets

— Huntley Dent, 5.22.2024

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