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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000205.txt from 1995/01

From: "William A. Helmers" <reedman@-----.EDU>
Subj: Mahler and the clarinet
Date: Thu, 12 Jan 1995 17:21:35 -0500

The orchestration of Mahler's symphonies is certainly a vast topic, and an
interesting one from the standpoint of an orchestral clarinettist. I've had
the good fortune to perform them all, with the exception of the 8th. (A
situation I hope to correct some day.) Anyway, it seems likely that Mahler
carefully considered the tonal characteristics of the various clarinets in
his writing.

Since the bulk of my experience has been with the bass clarinet parts, I
would like to offer a few observations:

In general, the bass clarinet voice is usually quite delicate in the
Symphonies 1-5. This use of the bass clarinet would be best
exemplified by the interchange between the bass clarinet and the
english horn at the conclusion of the 4th Symphony, or by the
distant calls at the opening of the 1st.

The bass clarinet is used rather sparingly in the earlier
symphonies. These are doubling parts which include substantial
amounts of C, Bb, and A clarinet. The first and 5th Symphonies also
include Eb and D parts respectively, an arrangement which has
enriched generations of bass clarinettists through extra doubling

Beginning with the 6th Symphony, the bass clarinet is given a much more
soloistic role, including an unusually juicy line in the first movement, and
several prominent passages in the scherzo and elsewhere.

Mahler begins to explore the "power" side of the bass clarinet in the later
symphonies with some very satisfying loud playing in the low register. The
7th has some notable passages in this regard, as does Das Lied von der Erde.

As for Mahler's use of bass clarinet in A, it would be difficult to
determine whether this was primarily to remain consistent with the other
clarinets, or to achieve a certain tone color. Although I own a bass
clarinet in A, I have found that many passages in the Mahler Symphonies work
better for me when played on Bb. One exception would be a passage in the 7th
which lands loudly on a written low E - a marvelous note on the bass
clarinet in A.

The bells up passage mentioned by Dan Leeson in an earlier posting is a bit
of a puzzle. I can't think of another passage that has this. I usually do
it, just for fun. It could have been an editting goof, since the other
clarinets are "bells up" at that point.

The Mahler Symphonies are incredibly rich. I'm sure that each player in a
Mahler orchestra could make many interesting observations about Mahler's
writing for that particular instrument. I look forward to hearing from
others on this topic.

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