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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000218.txt from 1993/12

From: "Dan Leeson: LEESON@-----.EDU>
Subj: Time for a new topic
Date: Mon, 13 Dec 1993 21:46:05 -0500

I made a quantum leap in my knowledge base in the last few months
and I want to share the situation with all of you. I was very
ignorant of a relatively recent period in the the clarinet's history.

It began with an article I wrote during the Mozart bicentennial called
"Mozart and the Clarinet in B-natural." To make a long story short,
there was such an instrument and Mozart called for its use on two
occasions: once in the opera Idomeneo and once in the opera Cosi Fan Tutte.
The article is in the last issue of Clarinet for 1991. End of story.

About 6 months after that article came out I got a telephone call from
a perfect stranger who told me that my name had been given to him by
a local player as possibly being interested in buying an unusual clarinet.
I invited him over and he came with the clarinet. It was a Buffet with
a serial number X907 (not sure any longer what the exact number was but
it was X9??) and that would place it as being made before WW1 but after
the turn of the century. I put a mouthpiece in it and it played but with
serious intonation problems within itself. To check the pitch, I went
to my piano and played a concert B-flat scale. Then, under the assumption
that the instrument was a B-flat clarinet, I played what I expected to
be the same sounds; i.e., a written C major scale.

Imagine my surprise: I was a half-tone off. In order for my C major
scale to be exactly in pitch with the piano's scale, I had to play a
B major scale on the piano. That meant that the instrument I was playing
on was a clarinet in B-natural.

Boing!! I pressed my visitor about where he got the instrument and he
knew nothing. Turns out that it was his girlfriend's horn and her parents
had bought it for her in a pawnshop in San Diego under the impression that
it was a standard clarinet. It was when she tried to play with the high
school band that it hit the fan. She simply could not get in tune.

To make a long story longer, I thought that I had found a treasure.

Now as to what I learned: during the early part of this century and
extending to around the mid 1920s, B-flat clarinets were made in two
different pitches: normal and high. When one was called for a gig,
one asked: "Standard or high pitch" so that one knew which instrument
to bring.

I never knew of this period in the clarinet history and incorrectly
assumed that the instrument on which I had been playing was pitched
in B-natural. It was not. It was pitched in B-flat but a half-tone
high which was about where the high pitched orchestras and bands
played at that time.

Now I find that such instruments are all over the place. Ever since
the article on the B-natural clarinet, I get letters from all over the
U.S. telling me that they also have discovered such a thing. I
also got a terrific letter from a repairperson in Indiana who was
willing to sell me a pair of high-pitched clarinets (in A and B-flat)
for a very modest sum.

I may buy a pair of high pitched B-flat clarinets to use if and when
I ever play Cosi Fan Tutte with a conductor who would appreciate
the presence of the B-natural clarinets in the ensemble as called for
in Mozart's autograph.

Strange story, no?

====================================
Dan Leeson, Los Altos, California
(leeson@-----.edu)
====================================

   
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