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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000419.txt from 1997/09

From: "David B. Niethamer" <>
Subj: Re: Well, here we go again
Date: Mon, 8 Sep 1997 23:24:15 -0400

I have to say I found most of this exchange very entertaining. So that
Dan doesn't get too lonely holding the banner for musicological
correctness, I thought I'd chime in on this yearly thread.

Mike wrote:

>1.) In a professional setting, the players can be expected to have the
>resources and responsibility to satisfy the composer's intent when
>playing a piece. When this means playing the part on an A clarinet or a
>C clarinet, this is what they can be expected to do.

Would that it were so. Some orchestras do. I've had a C clarinet for two
years now, and I wonder how I did without it before. It has been an
eye-opening experience. I think every professional clarinetist should own
one and use it as called for (especially now that I have mine!!).
>2.) When the composer's intent becomes impossible to satisfy because of
>the physical difficulty involved in changing instruments, then it is
>reasonable to assume that the professional clarinetist will transpose.

And Dan Leeson responded:

>>Of, perhaps, 10,000 switches in the repertoire, there are maybe
>>10 that are difficult to execute. So do not exaggerate the problem
>>by given the impression that it is an everyday event. It is very
>>rare to find what you imply is relatively common. Can you name
>>10 works where this phenomenon occurs?

Well, no, Dan, off the top of my head I can't. But there are plenty, and
some of them are pretty glaring, even from major composers who should
have known better. Where I differ with Dan on this one is that he assumes
that the composer is always right (and always competent). I hope I
represent your views correctly, Dan, when I say that you believe to
assume otherwise is a "slippery slope", and I agree. *BUT* composers make
mistakes, and leave those of us in the trenches to deal with the
resulting problems. So occaisionally, after a lot of thought, I go
against a composers wishes and play a passage on another clarinet. But I
consider the switch a lot more carefully than I once did, and I certainly
never do it for my own convenience any more.
>3.) A youth orchestra, by definition, is not held to the same standards
>as a professional symphony orchestra, both in terms of equipment and
>4.) Most youth orchestra players will not pursue professional musical
>5.) A young player who cannot afford to own more than one instrument will
>9 times out of 10 own a Bb clarinet. A player who can afford an A
>clarinet should probably buy one if he intends to continue playing in an
>orchestral setting in the future, but no player should be denied an
>opportunity to play because he cannot afford extra instruments.

Mike, I hope you'll agree that any youth orchestra worthy of the effort
*should* strive for the highest level of performance possible, and then
go for the next level beyond that. That's how students develop and
improve the skills to become good musicians (important no matter what
career path they ultimately choose). That sort of effort generates a love
for the music that you can't get by accepting your limitations without
question or effort.

When I was first involved with youth orchestras, A clarinets were pretty
rare for HS students, and many youth orchestras simply had the
clarinetists transpose. I see an encouraging trend where many youth
orchestras now own A clarinets for their students to use, and I think we
can all agree that in general this is a good thing. I hope we can now
start to work on C clarinets in this same way, so that perhaps in 20 more
years, they will also be available as needed. It will be a good education
for the students to use them.
>6.) Transposing in one's head is not a skill generally taught to young
>clarinettists. (Maybe it should be)

Yes, it should. I teach it as a part of learning sight reading skills. I
use "Rhythmical Articulation" by Pasquale Bona (Kalmus, Carl Fischer, or
Schirmer), starting at #75, Part 2. Play as written, play an octave
higher, 8va lower (all as possible, which it mostly is). Then we start on
whole step up, half step down, etc. until transposition is old hat.
Oversimplified here, but that's the basic plan.
>7.) The time it takes for a youth orchestra to work up a technically
>challenging (and hence, difficult to mentally transpose) piece is usually
>(but not always--I will admit) sufficient time to allow someone to
>transpose his part on paper.

True, but would you rather be practicing or writing!?!? As I said above,
the "transposing at sight" is a valuable tool, even if it eventually
becomes "transposing from memory".
>8.) It should be assumed that C clarinet parts in a youth orchestra will
>be transposed. C clarinet parts are not frequent enough in the
>literature to warrant requiring an young amateur player to buy a C
>clarinet--the player will not get enough use out of the instrument to
>make it worth the expense.

and Dan responded:

>>Not so! Youth orchestras play a lot of Beethoven, Schubert,
>>Mozart, and Mendelssohn where there are lots and lots and lots of
>>C clarinet parts.

I have an interesting observation about this. I think we *should* play
these pieces on C clarinet as called for. But it's my totally
unscientific gut reaction that Beethoven (to use one instance) wasn't as
attuned to the difference in tone color in Symphony #1, (having played it
both on C and on Bb clarinets) where either way seems to work OK, as he
was in Symphony #5, where the last mvt. played on C clarinet is a
revelation to me. I hear the same sort of "progression" in Schubert from
early works to later ones. Just my observation, FWIW.
>9.) Usually the conductor won't be able to tell whether you used an A, a
>C, or a Bb. The audience will never know.

See Dan's list of oxymorons - "knowledgable conductor" among them! As Dan
pointed out *you* will know, and you should be your sternest critic!
>11.) Most importantly, Mom and Dad (who are paying for all this) will
>still think you were wonderful, regardless of what kind of clarinet you
>used. :)

Unless of course, Dan writes them a letter...

Now Dan also said:

>But has anyone noticed what a thoughtful orchestral clarinet
>section plays when the music says, "Clarinet in C"? Like
>the Chicago Symphony, for example?

Well, yes, and they also play German system clarinets in the German
repertoire, at least up to Strauss where "the fingerings get too hard" (I
think that's a quote). Now that leads me to a question - if composers
expected to hear certain sounds, and we are obligated to try to provide
those sounds, how do we deal with this issue? Do we get period
instruments too? German system? Where does the issue of authenticity end?
This whole topic raises more questions for me than answers.

But in a pointless aside, I offer the following quote from Stevens
Hewitt, who played in the Philadelphia Orchestra: "We have no way of
knowing what Vivaldi's performances sound like. But, if he were in the
hall, would he like this one?"

Oh, and Mike - I've met Dan, and I think you're safe. If you ever see him
coming to slam you against that wall, I'm here to tell you - you *can*
outrun him!! Carrying the other clarinetist, you can outrun him!!



David Niethamer
Principal Clarinet, Richmond Symphony

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