Malcolm Arnold : Fantasy for clarinet op.87 (analysis)

“Fantasy for clarinet op.87”, written by Malcolm Arnold 1966 is a composition for a single clarinet, it takes up to about four minutes.

When looking at this piece one has to first of all mention, that it is written for a transposing instrument. In this case, it is composed for the most common type of clarinet; the b-flat clarinet. This means that everything the clarinet plays sounds one whole tone higher than it can be seen in the score. The other way round, everything that is written down can be heard one tone lower.

Arnold himself parted this piece into eight parts which he labeled from “A” to “H”. One thing which is quite interesting with those sections, is that, section A only starts after the main theme has been played for the first time. It is furthermore the case, that the tempo or sometimes even the time signature is changed when a new section starts. In the following paragraphs, I’ll try to analyse and explain those eight parts more detailed.

The very first part of “Fantasy for Clarinet”, is the only part of the composition that isn’t under any of the named sections. It lasts for eight bars and introduces the main theme of the piece. The time signature the composition starts with is 4/4, the first given tempo to it is given as Tempo 1 .  Besides the fact, that the piece doesn’t have a key signature, one can see from the f-sharp accidentals, that it is meant to be in e-minor (which would then due to the clarinet being a transposing instrument sound like d-minor). The melody has a really heroic sounding character and can be remembered easily. It is build up with two motives, both of them have a first part (bars 1,3,5 and 7), which is being repeated (The second motive one octave lower) and a second part (bars 2,4,6 and 8) which is always slightly different  :

Main theme

Section A

This section has a length of another eight bars and is basically a repetition of the main theme (as it can be seen above) but with a “pp”-dynamic given, the previous section was in “ff”. The only other difference is, that the appoggiaturas from bar five in the score above aren’t played anymore.

Section B

At the beginning of this section the time signature changes to 3/8 and a change of tempo can be found as well (Tempo2). The melody starts with repeating the notes from the last bar of the theme; four times it starts on an f-sharp as well. The four following repetitions each start one minor third higher than the previous one, thus the following motives start with a, c1, d1-sharp (which is enharmonic equivalent to e-flat, which is the “official” minor third on c) and the last played motive therefore lands on f1-sharp again. Arnold continues with this scheme for one more octave after that and eventually starts with a new motive by not going down to the e2 after the last motive, but to the c3 above.

Thema B2

When one has a closer look at this following theme, it becomes visible that it has two motives, always a higher and a lower one, moving towards one-another by always going one whole tone lower, or, for the motive that starts on the e1-flat in bar 2 , one whole tone higher. The first four intervals at the start of every bar always stay the same, the only difference make those two semiquavers at the end of the bars, which not only function as anacruses, but are also inverted from one another. One bar after that Arnold continues with this scheme only for the lower melody, where it lands on a d2-sharp. This d2-sharp is the start of a short series of motives with a semi-quaver triplet, followed by a quaver note. The first three of those motives can be build up to a em-maj-7 chord, the next three to a d-m-maj-7 chord (shown below). The last two bars of this section are an introduction to section C.

emmaj7  Em-maj7       dmmaj7 Dm-maj7

Section C

The first four bars of section C involve the motive that can be seen above, except for that the upper voice starts on c3-sharp, and the lower voice on g. After that the motive is being continued for another six times, but without the anacruses, until the upper voice lands on e2-flat. For the next five bars the melody mainly focuses on this e2-flat, the sound intensity is being increased, and it comes to a very loud end of this part with a thriller being played on the e-flat.

Section D

This section is basically a mixture of the themes that can be seen above. It starts with the first seven notes of the main theme followed by a really loudly played, low pitched part. This is being repeated right afterwards, even though the low played part varies. A B-7 arppegio made from appoggiaturas is used to come to a high pitched B, which, again, makes the start of the second given theme. The lower voice starts on a c1 this time. The interesting thing with especially this theme, is that the two voices are not moving towards one another, but away from each other. Thus, the higher voice moves up for one whole tone after one motive has been played and the lower voice moves down.  When the upper voice reaches the e3it is being played very loundly several times over three octaves, until section E starts.

Section E

The time signature is changed back to 4/4, the tempo is given as Tempo 3. Section E again starts with the main theme by playing the first 11 notes, but instead of starting on e2 it starts on the a2 above. This theme is interrupted by 4 aggressively played low “e”s. After a repetition of the just named sequence, the melody slowly moves its way down to c2. Besides it being interrupted by a quick deep pitched part, the pitch suddenly makes a huge jump from the c2 to the e1, which moves up five notes as an introduction for the next section.

Section F

This section mainly consists of sextuplets, except for several short “interruptions”, which refer to previous motives. The first section of sextuplets is made from the notes of an a-minor arpeggio, followed by an e-major arpeggio. After one short interruption which resembles to the main theme once more, this section is repeated. The following row of sextuplets involves an upwards going scale, which is build only with minor thirds, which is,again, followed by a short interruption and then repeated. The melody then moves a scale down which I wasn’t able to identify, until the tempo becomes slower and the melody focuses on g-sharp and b.

Section G

Surprisingly I wasn’t able to find any connection between this section and the others. After the loudly and fast played previous sections, this one makes a really strong contrast with its slow, calm melody. This is the only section of the whole piece which doesn’t seem to be connected to the other ones in any way.

Section H

As with most pieces, Arnold finished the composition the way he started it by playing a slight variation of the first main theme at the very end.



I personally found it really interesting how Arnold worked only with two themes for this piece. Every time a new motive came up it is being repeated several times in varied ways for the ongoing sections. The only section that made an exception was G. Furthermore, Arnold often used sudden changes in dynamics and also the pitch. I couldn’t really tell, whether this piece has a proper subsidiary section or not due to the fact, that the melody mainly focuses on the main theme.

All in all I really enjoyed analyzing this piece, especially because I made a listening log entry to it before. From all the pieces I have listened to before “fantasy for clarinet ” was my personal favorite, that’s why I chose to analyse it.

One thought on “Malcolm Arnold : Fantasy for clarinet op.87 (analysis)

  1. Hi! I know I am a bit late, but thank you for your very in-depth analysis:)
    It was very interesting and helpful for my analysis exam. Keep up the good work!


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