Di Vivere
for clarinet in A and piano (1981)

8 min.

14 April 1986
Graduate Student Artists
Yale Composers Concert: Sprague Hall, Yale University
New Haven, CT

Written for the Da Capo Chamber Players under a National Endowment for the Arts Composer / Librettist Grant, 1980-1981

to David Olan

Di Vivere, for clarinet in A and piano [full version includes flute, violin and violoncello] (1981), was commissioned by the Da Capo Chamber Players for their "Connections with the Past" series at Carnegie Recital Hall and is dedicated to my friend, David Olan, composer and clarinetist. Although self-contained, it continues the contrasting sonorities found in Mestiere, for piano (1979), and completes the title of Cesare Pavese's collected journals, Il mestiere di vivere, The Business of Living. In a single movement it explores both the inward and outward directed music of the clarinet and piano, heightened and further exteriorized by the coloration of a trio of flute, violin and 'cello.

During the writing of this work I took a trip to Mexico where I discovered the paintings of Rufino Tamayo and how they reflect Aztec fresco colors – green, yellow, red, white, and black. Like literary images, color and visual shapes also influence my work as in Piano Sonata and as here in Di Vivere. I wrote the following in my personal journal on January 13, 1981 that makes the connection between color and harmony and the inner-outer directed nature of this work: "I was impressed today in a yoga class by how I feel so isolated while doing certain positions – very personal – but then all of a sudden I straighten up, turn my head to the side, and realize that there is a larger world, more expansive, brighter than just my own warmth and my own presence. And then back to that inner world. It is the isolated world of the clarinet and piano being enhanced by the trio of flute, violin and 'cello. Here the difference, too subtle, between the Aztec and Tamayo's coloration. How do I shade these different harmonies?"

Originally, Da Capo requested a work for clarinet and piano. I found that to be a daunting idea and became creatively blocked because of it. So I went to complain to Morton Feldman who I had first met in Buffalo in 1979: "It's difficult to write for two instruments." To which he responded: "Think of the piano and clarinet; add horn (then take it out); add violin, pizz. (then take it out), etc. Arrive at piano and clarinet!" His advice to me was akin to a Japanese aesthetic that suggests that one should remove everything unessential in order to strengthen a work of art. So, I "added" the flute, violin and 'cello as a way of "pulling" the colors out of the clarinet and piano duo, and they became permanent residents. But the work is structured in such a way that it could be performed as simply a duet for clarinet and piano.

Di Vivere may be performed together with Mestiere. Di Vivere may be performed as a quintet or a duet for clarinet in A and piano.

The quintet, the duet or the piano solo may be performed individually or in one of the following combinations:

    I. Di Vivere duet and quintet
    II. Mestiere and Di Vivere duet and quintet
    III. Mestiere and Di Vivere quintet
    IV. Mestiere and Di Vivere duet

"Mr. Biscardi's 'Di Vivere' for flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano arguably 'connected' with Debussy in the sense that it was concerned with the subtleties of changing texture within sustained pitch-fields and the not-so-subtle process of intensification through expansion of register. As performed by the Da Capo players at Carnegie Recital Hall it was successful."
Theodore W. Libbry Jr., The New York Times (1982)

"Di Vivere is intended to 'suggest the fluctuating intensities of being alive' through the 'inward and outward directed music of the clarinet and piano.' Heavily pedaled piano arpeggios (using harmonies and, occasionally, textures reminiscent of Messiaen), create a series of sound waves, ebbing and flowing in time. The virtuoso clarinet part emerges out of this sonorous blur like an afterimage; held notes are interrupted by sudden leaps, which soon develop into difficult, candenza-like runs up and down the entire range of the instrument. The piece's slowly changing harmonies are heard through passages of sustained chords and swirling ostinatos, in which the flute and two strings participate. the three instruments are clearly subordinate, although each has its own brief solo; they function primarily to reinforce mood and color. Di Vivere, whose actual performance time is closer to eleven minutes than the eight indicated in the score, should make a fine recital piece for a clarinetist seeking an example of postwar impressionism."
Richard M. Kassel, Notes (1989)

Di Vivere (1981) is written for the now-traditional Pierrot quintet, and has the strongest Uptown sound of any work on this program. In its athletic tussle and pitch centers' arrivals announced in ringing unisons, it reminds one of Wuorinen.
Robert Carl, Fanfare: The Magazine for Serious Record Collectors (January 2012)

Mestiere and Di Vivere are companion works of a sort, in that their titles are taken from two halves of the collected journals of twentieth century Italian writer Cesare Pavese (1908-50), Il Mestiere di Vivere ('The Business of Living'). Biscardi says that they may be performed together, Di Vivere either as a quintet for clarinet in A and piano, with flute, violin and cello, as here, or as a duo for the clarinet and piano alone. Mestiere is a short, ponderous, atonal piece, and serves as a prelude to the more immediately attractive Di Vivere, which was commissioned by and premiered in 1982 by the Da Capo Players themselves – flautist Patricia Spencer and cellist André Emilianoff are, amazingly, still in this splendid ensemble's line-up.
Byzantion, MusicWeb International Classical Reviews (September 11, 2011)

Di Vivere (1981) is a quiet and rather blocky study in colors written for the Da Capo Chamber Players (flute, violin, clarinet, cello, and piano). Attractive and sensual, it is typical of the more laid-back academic chamber music of its time.
Allen Gimbel, American Record Guide (November/December 2011)

Other than Berio's piece, the earliest work was Chester Biscardi's Di Vivere (1981), commissioned by Da Capo, with major roles for clarinet and piano, and supporting ones for flute, violin, and cello. An extended piano sequence introduces the clarinet, which becomes wildly florid, after which the other three tiptoe in. But rhapsodic sequences are countered by long, sustained chords, and the clarinet has the last word, a low murmur. The quintet captured Biscardi's sober mood with disarming subtlety.
Bruce Hodges, MusicalAmerica.com (May 8, 2017)

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