Klarinet Archive - Posting 000143.txt from 1996/04
From: "Dan Leeson: LEESON@-----.EDU>
Subj: Re: comments on Szell and the Mozart concerto
Date: Sat, 6 Apr 1996 08:30:35 -0500
There was a fantastically interesting comment made a few days ago
about the Marcellus/Szell recording of K. 622. Specifically the
influence of Szell (who certainly had the reputation as a great
Mozartean) caused significant changes to be made to the articulation
of rapid passages. It was reported that Szell said
something to the effect that all that tonguing caused the music
to sound like Weber and not Mozart. So, the net effect was to cause
passages that Marcellus had been tonguing to be slurred and that
decision (if true) was an important influence on the recording of
K. 622 that has been spoken about.
This note is not about Macellus or even Szell for that matter but deals
with what appears to be Mozart's view of the surface texture of
clarinet passagework. In the absence of an autograph score to see
what it was that Mozart wrote, it is a common practice to use one's
intuition to change the phrasing, articulation, or even the notes
of the music under the argument that "Mozart would (or would not) have
done it that way." If the story about Szell's comments to Marcellus
is true, it represents Szell's view on how Mozart should sound. But
the evidence does not support him.
An examination of the autograph scores of major works in which a clarinet
has a prominent place shows that Mozart was meticulous in describing
the phrase shapes that he wanted. The absence of slurs in these many
rapid passages does not mean that he forgot and was careless. One can
argue very forcefull that it means exactly what it says. Let me give
two very specific examples.
In the E-flat wind octet, K. 375 (and corroborated in the sextet version
of the same work), there is an extraordinary amount of tonguing in the
first and last movements that has been eliminated by editors over the
last 200 years, and for both first and second clarinets, as well as
first and second oboe, and first and second bassoon. Most performing
editions of today simply slur it all. Maybe that is what Mozart meant,
but it is not what he wrote.
In the Gran Partitta, variations movement, there is a killer second
clarinet part that is almost always slurred despite the fact that Mozart
puts no slurs in the music, though all the surrounding text is very
precisely indicated. The passage is a blindingly difficult series of
Alberti bass accompaniment figures in 32-nd notes.
I do not know what Mozart meant by these strange and very difficult
places. I only know what he wrote. The easiest way out of this
conundrum is to say that he really meant it to be slurred, but that
is because tonguing it is often so difficult. Another argument is
that it sounds better slurred, and that is a very subject and questionable
I offer the view that the surface texture of music of the classic
period was more rough than later periods, particularly the
early romantic where long slurred phrases were considered a more
passionate expression on one's feelings than tongued phrases.
Certainly the two previous musical periods (of which the Classical
is simply an extension), Baroque and Rococco,had much rougher surface
textures than that which followed. Listen to the surface texture of
oboe and flute lines in Bach cantatas to see how much tonguing is
demanded of the player.
So if Szell added slurs under the assumption that, without them,
it sounded more like Weber, I suggest that he had it exactly
backwards. Weber used measureably more slurs than Mozart in
While playing Mozart in this fasion may cause it to sound strange to
contemporary ears, that should not be the criterion by which we select
slurring as the articulation of choice. The criteria are defined by
exactly what he wrote (at least in those autographs that we have to
consult) coupled with the fact that the autograph scores that he
produced throughout his lifetime are so very accurate and precise.
So hearing the Marcellus/Szell recording of K. 622, one hears in
the phrase articulations, Szell's vision of what Mozart might have
done. And, to repeat myself, the evidence is not on Szell's side.
Whenever one speaks to musicians about such topics as this, they
often bristle at the introduction of "evidence" since most music
is played intuititvely, and evidence is what one brings to a murder
trial, not a performance of K. 622. Personally I think that to be
>From the little experience I had with Marcellus, I got the sensation
that he, like Szell, believed that intuition coupled with the
experience of multiple performances of a work was sufficient to
allow one to conclude on important performance issues. How many times
have we all heard (and probably said), "Don't tell me how that piece
goes, I've played it for 40 years." And I suggest that the act of
playing a piece many times only provides one with an intimate knowledge
of what the melodies are, nothing more.
Dan Leeson, Los Altos, California