At 92, Carl Vollrath may have retired from the John M. Long School of Music, but he hasn’t stopped working and is being inspired by the beauty of Bellingrath Gardens, which he hopes becomes a state park one day.
The former TROY professor and renowned composer celebrated his birthday on March 26.
“It’s not just one garden. It’s several,” Vollrath said. “Asian gardens, azalea gardens, a lake garden and so on. We went down there, and I fell in love with them.”
Located in Mobile, Bellingrath Gardens and Home was the creation of Walter and Bessie Mae Morse Bellingrath, first opened to the public in 1932. In 1955, after Walter’s death, the home converted to the Bellingrath Morse Foundation for continual operation of home and gardens. Today, Bellingrath Gardens and Home is a unique icon for the Gulf Coast region, housing thousands of exquisite plants and flowers.
Vollrath joined the TROY faculty in 1965 and has composed hundreds of works including the 1966 opera “The Quest” and “Warrior Monks,” an album of two clarinet concerti and a trumpet concerto inspired by a Troy University-sponsored trip to China. The Archives of Carl Vollrath’s Music is housed in a room of the University Library.
While his music has been played world-renowned orchestras such as the Scottish Royal Symphony Orchestra, he particularly enjoys composing for the clarinet.
“I found that the clarinet has many different sounds to it, you know,” Vollrath said. “The instruments leading up to the clarinet had many different sounds to it.”
He explores those sounds in his music. Two examples of his work that achieves unique sounds are “Past Times: I and II.”
One of these techniques is playing the natural fingerings for a note but then wiggling one of the keys.
“Its ‘dah’ is more like ‘wah-wah-wah-wah’,” Vollrath explained. “It’s sort of another tone coming and not just a ‘dah-dah-dah’ or a trill, but something much lower or higher getting all these strange sounds.”
Traditionally, the clarinet is played by placing the reed on the lip. However, in “Past Times: II,” he has the musician lift the clarinet off their lip.
“So, the reed is free to vibrate, and you get this rocky sound that’s ‘aaaahhh’,” Vollrath said.