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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000119.txt from 1995/03

From: Laurence Liberson <hardreed@-----.COM>
Subj: Re: Transpositions
Date: Sat, 4 Mar 1995 21:49:39 -0500

>>This is exactly what we spoke of several months ago with respect to
>>the transposition of C clarinet music. Almost every comment on the
>>subject of tranpostition has been made with the reminder that we
>>need to be able to transpose C clarinet music. Sure. I suppose so.
>>But in fact, what we need to be able to do is buy a C clarinet since
>>that is the character of sound that, presumably, the composer had in
>>mind when writing the piece.
>Is this really true? Also, do you think that orchestras today sound
>like they did when the composers composed the music? Not to get into
>a debate over original instruments vs. modern instruments, but when
>Haydn wrote the Creation, did he really think about the sound of a
>C clarinet vs. that of the B-flat, or did he just write it because
>it was easier to read from the score?
>Just a thought from an amateur clarinettist
>Cobus Theunissen (
>03/03/95, 12:50:37

These are all very good points made here. As Dan Leesen has already stated,
we've been through this string in great detail a few months ago.

I tend to agree with both points of view (nope, I'm not waffling here!). I
truly believe that, especially in earlier compostions, the choice of
instrument was dictated by the key of the composition rather than the color
of the particular keyed clarinet desired. I have no historical
documentation to offer as "evidence"--just a tad bit of common sense. I
will defer to Dan as the Mozart scholar (which he most certainly is!), but
feel the need to pose a couple questions his way concerning this (honest
questions, as I do not pretend to know): Do you think that the Concerto, K.
622 made use of the clarinet in A (or more correctly, bassetclarinet in A)
because of the particular color of that particular instrument or because he
chose that particular key which to compose the piece? If he wanted to write
the piece in the key of Bb, do you think he might have scored it for B-flat
clarinet? C major and C clarinet? I would be interested in hearing your
opinion, Dan--honest!

One more point on this subject and I'll (hope to) put it all to rest: Dan
made his opinion known as to honoring the composer's intentions as to the
choice of instrument requested. For the most part, I agree with him. As I
have have stated before, there are always circumstances that transposition
is necessary to effect a good performance, and exceptions must be made

Dan mentioned a Mahler excerpt (3rd Symphony, I believe?) in which you must
switch for four measures or something like that...low E, I believe on the A
clarinet. Well, of course, that makes a lot of sense, doesn't it? Did he
write for the color or the pitch, do you think?

On the other hand, let's take a look at the second movement of Mahler 9th,
OK? There is a spot for three clarinets, all in Bb, who are called upon to
play a passage--in unison--that descends to a low Eb! Now, here is a
composer that knew the orchestra intimately, knew about instruments and knew
about orchestration as no other! Did all of his Vienna Phil clarinetists
have low E-flat keys on the Bb clarinets? What color (down there) was he
trying to get? Did he get the same color out of the New York clarinetists
that he desired from the Vienna clarinetists? Do today's players deliver
that same color?

Are we doing Mahler's music a disservice by playing that above excerpt on
the A clarinet? Of course not!

There are legitimate exceptions to every rule...this isn't a felony!

I don't pretend to have any or all of the answers...but I'm very secure with
my own performance practices, and certainly do not feel as if I am maligning
the composer in *any* way at *any* time.

Larry Liberson
Detroit Symphony Orchestra

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