It was as a clarinettist that Birtwistle began his musical training, and the instrument has often figured prominently in his music. Each of Birtwistle's works is a stage in a continuous process of growth, and the quintet is by no means unusual in taking up musical ideas from earlier pieces. Like Silbury Air (1977), it starts out from the E above middle C, and like Melencolia (1976), it is music for a clarinet caught in a tangle of melodies, chorales and repetitions emanating from a body of strings. The clarinet quintet is also characteristic in evolving through a single movement, impelled by harmonic forces which appear to be growing ever clearer and at the same time more various in their actions. Much of the music is pinned to pedal notes, beginning with the E-F-F# complex of the opening and leading eventually to a low D, which the clarinet had already announced in soft repetition at the end of what might be regarded as the 'exposition', an opening section of moderate tempo and generally low dynamics. The ensuing 'development', beginning with the string quartet moving resolutely together for the first time, proceeds as so often in Birtwistle through flashes of novelty.