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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000129.txt from 1993/12

From: Cary Karp <nrm-karp@-----.SE>
Subj: Re: Why the choice of Bb (piccs avail in C and Db)
Date: Wed, 8 Dec 1993 18:17:00 -0500

On Wed, 8 Dec 1993, Jay Heiser wrote:

> It makes perfect sense to have access to instruments 1/2 step
> apart, but I still am not convinced of the benefits of putting
> trumpets, clarinets & saxes in Bb instead of C. My guess is
> that the trumpets were there first, and that the military band
> conventions eventually supplanted the orchestral conventions
> because of the higher number of players in bands.

The trumpets in use when the Bb/A clarinet practice arose were not
pitched in Bb. The most common trumpets of the day were in D and F, crooked
down a semitone or whole tone as needed. There was also a G trumpet.

For as far back as we can trace the history of pitch (into the 14th
century) there have been several pitch standards in parallel use. In
grossly oversimplified terms, there was a "choir pitch" used in the church,
and a "chamber pitch" one tone lower used in secular and outdoor
contexts. Somewhere along the line a second chamber pitch came into use,
yet another semitone lower.

Finding, say, a pair of late 17th century flutes pitched a tone apart
therefore does not justify the conclusion that if the lower is taken to
be in C, the higher is in D. They may both be C flutes, with one intended
for chamber pitch use and the other for choir pitch. The various
exchangeable tuning joints found on flutes throughout the latter 18th
century were not designed simply to compensate for vagaries in pitch, but
were also intended to address differences between the two chamber
pitches, if not between chamber and choir pitches. It certainly seems
likely that at least the double jointed Bb/A clarinets were an extension
of the same phenomenon.

Things ultimately developed into the present-day practice of having (sort
of) one nominal pitch standard, but using transposing instruments --
either for tonal reasons (which gets my vote) or for reasons of no longer
necessary instrument making tradition. One way or the other, as has long
been the case, if everyone in a full orchestra is asked to play their
nominal A's different pitches will result.

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