Tim Benjamin

composer, writer, storyteller

Sonata for Bass Clarinet


Commissioned by Sarah Watts / SCAW, this Sonata is scored for bass clarinet and piano.

Having discovered that the range given for the bass clarinet in many orchestration handbooks is wrong, and being loudly reminded of this by Sarah in Radius rehearsals, we then decided that a new piece should be written to take advantage of the glorious lowest notes of the instrument. This is that piece.

A bass clarinet's bell
A bass clarinet's bell

The Sonata is structured in three movements:

  1. Allegro assai, non troppo

  2. Andantino, grazioso

  3. Vivo, ritmico

Each movement of the piece begins with a low concert B flat — the lowest note on a conventional bass clarinet (although I’ve since discovered a low A is possible on some instruments...). This wonderful sound forms the basis — and the reason — for the whole piece. In addition I’ve tried to explore all the soloistic aspects of this great instrument — too seldom found in solo recitals: the extremes of the range; sweeping chromatic agility; punchy staccato rhythms; and soaring lines strongly reminiscent of a soprano saxophone.

The piano is no bystander in the Sonata — it has a near-equal part to play, and the pianist is as much a soloist in this piece as the bass clarinettist.

There are several references to other music in the Sonata, some deliberately quite subtle, others perhaps less so: the middle movement contains more than a nod to the graceful dancing scales of the solo clarinet of Scheherezade, for example. In keeping with the "almost-saxophone" tone possible with a bass clarinet, I’ve written some very blues-like moments in the piece, hopefully complemented by expressionistic and lyrical lines with dense yet strongly directed harmony.


20 minutes


Bass clarinet and piano


Sarah Watts

First performance

Sarah Watts (bass clarinet) and Antony Clare (piano) — SCAW at Nottingham Grammar School, November 2010.


Here is a studio recording performed by Peter Rogers and Silvia Lucas at the Royal Northern College of Music.

Request a score / parts

If you would like to see a score and/or require a set of parts for this music, please contact me.