for clarinet and piano was written either in December 1916 or in January 1917 during his military service, and the first performance took place on 17 February 1917. Originally Pastoral
formed the second of two pieces, the first being Rhapsody
was published in 1980, but the music of Rhapsody
has never been published and the whereabouts of the original manuscript remain unknown. Pastoral
is therefore one of Bliss’s earliest surviving works. Tonally, it is centred on D. Such a key, as always in Bliss’s music, is not rigidly adhered to: soon the long, arching clarinet theme which begins the piece hints at broader tonal regions. A secondary idea on the piano, marked ‘grazioso’, begins in a clear C major, although that too is not held for long as the clarinet takes up the new idea (with an important triplet insertion), again stretching the tonality. An extended piano passage leads to a quiet 6/8 aspect of the second subject. The 3/4 returns at the passionate climax before the piano ushers in the final part, Tempo primo, a gentle restatement of the long initial theme which now reveals its affinity with the second subject. Gradually the music winds to a pianissimo close, the bare fifth D–A leaving the mode unresolved.
from notes by Howard Ferguson and Robert Matthew-Walker © 1997