Klarinet Archive - Posting 000568.txt from 1997/12
From: "Dan Leeson: LEESON@-----.edu>
Subj: The Morales/Clemence of Titus question
Date: Thu, 11 Dec 1997 19:42:41 -0500
I offer the hypothesis that the world of clarinet playing is in the
middle of a revolution for which we don't have a good precedent.
We have had lots of revolutions in clarinet making and clarinet
playing over the last couple of centuries but they were all for the
purpose of creating things that were not done before (such as
multiphonics) or not able to be done before (such as A-flat/E-flat
on both sides of the instrument). The revolution of which I speak
and for which we have no precedent is the resurrection of something
that was and then was not.
That there have been a variety of clarinet types since its
invention is not an issue that needs to be argued on this forum.
And just one such type, invented for and used by only one man, came
about in about 1785, disappeared about 1810 and, until about 1948
was completely forgotten. Then an article appeared in a British
journal that threw a hand grenade into the universe of clarinet
The article said, the clarinet for which Mozart wrote many of his
key works, including both solo works and orchestral works was not
like the clarinet we play today. Specifically, it went lower by a
major third (or a minor third if you were playing on a full Boehm
system that went down to low E-flat).
Now if the author had said that about the clarinet for which
Wagenseil wrote many of his key works, or Stamitz, or Salieri, we
would have all turned over in bed and gotten another hour's worth
of sleep. And that is generally what happens when one discovers
something like a quarter tone clarinet invented in 1865 and used in
Bulgaria. The reaction is, "who cares?" These thing do not get
resurrected. Perhaps someone can suggest an exception something
here, but I cannot find a precedent for the resurrection of an
obsolete clarinet; i.e., the obsolescence had a reason (generally
engineering oriented) and that reason has not changed.
But neither Wagenseil, Stamitz, or Salieri wrote for the
instrument played by that one man from ca. 1785 to ca. 1810.
Mozart did. And that made all the difference in the world. By
1960, efforts were underway here and there to try to reconstruct an
instrument like it. Few of those efforts were successful. Mind
you that there was no PROOF that the Mozart clarinet was different,
just suspicions that Stadler was a guy with strange horns, three of
them in fact, one in B-flat, one in A, and one in C and they all
went down to low C (according to Groves), an emminently logical
thing to have because arpeggios in the most frequently used key of
the instrument were able to land on the tonic at the bottom of an
arpeggiated passage and not have to quit an octave early or wind up
with certain notes in a misplaced octave.
By 1970 there were a lot more of these reconstructions. By 1985
Selmer, Le Blanc, Buffet, Hammerschmidt, Wurlitzer were making them
commercially, the first three only in A, the latter two in almost
any flavor you wanted.
Now anyone playing K. 622, or K. 581 before the availability of the
basset clarinet cannot be faulted. And anyone who was not in a
prominent position of clarinetdom could also afford to get by. But
not the kings of the earth. Schifrin got one, Pay got one, Combs
got one, and many European orchestral clarinetists (but few
American ones) in the big orchestras either got one (or two or
three) for themselves or made certain that the orchestra management
coughed up the money for them.
Then, a picture of Stadler's basset clarinet was found in a program
for a concert in Lithuania and on which Stadler played K. 622. So
now, it wasn't even guess work any longer. It was hard, solid,
knowledge backed up by pictures, and musical evidence.
Today, anyone making a recording of K. 622 on traditional clarinet
runs a risk for not performing the work on a basset clarinet. And
any player in a position like Morales' has to come to grips with
the issue. It is no longer a question that can be ignored and it
certainly is not going to go away.
Morales played the Titus aria last Saturday, and in the face of
autograph documentation in Mozart's own hand coupled with the
availability of the basset clarinet, he chose to ignore what the
composer wrote and play an obsolete edition of the work.
I feel a little robbed. I paid my fee to hear the Titus aria
played and what I got was a performance from 25 years ago.
Magnificently played, but not current. It was yesterday's
merchandise. It was stale bread.
Of all the people who should be involved in the clarinet
revolution, I would hope that Morales would be in the forefront.
But he wasn't and I gave several speculative reasons why he might
not have done it.
Someone suggested that maybe the part from which he played didn't
ask for the notes. Nope. That won't do. Levine not only uses the
Barenreiter edition. He insists on it. And that edition is taken
from the Neue Mozart Ausgabe scores, which, in the case of Titus,
has low d's. In fact, the parts are computer generated from the
score, and the low d's would be placed in the part by a machine,
not by a human (though it is possible that an alternative part
might also be given to get around the problem for those
performances done without basset clarinet). I know how Barenreiter
operates because they are my publisher.
Others suggested that Morales doesn't have the time to concern
himself with these things. He's a busy man. Well that's one of
the problems of playing in a major house. One gets busy. It is a
consequence of the job. But many of the principal clarinet players
of Europe's leading opera houses are making the time. Hans Rudolf
Stalder has made the time. He bought a set of three basset
clarinets for his own personal use. Tony Pay has made the time.
In effect, that argument (put forward by the other Dan) doesn't
wash. We are all busy people.
What bothered me most is that Morales is not a player that one can
ignore. He is a phenomenon on the instrument, a real star, and
deservedly so. For him to chose not to be a leader in this arena
is a lot different than if you or I chose not to be a leader. The
world follows him which requires that he remain current. In this
area at least, he is not a leader and there is no reason why he
should not be.
It's not his tone or his performance practice or his technique or
even his love of music that is being discussed here. Last Saturday
more people heard him play that aria than any other clarinet player
in the world. There is no comparison to the Met's worldwide
transmission. No other hall in the world is so all encompassing.
And what the world of opera lovers heard was one of the giant
clarinet players of this century ignoring what Mozart told him to
play. (I point out that few of the listeners would know this to be
the case, but if guys like Morales continue to perform the work in
an obsolete way, they are never going to get any smarter.)
He ignored it because (1) he doesn't know about it, or (2) because
he didn't think it to be important, or (3) because someone external
to him (like Levine) told him not to do it, or (4) because he
intended to play it on a basset clarinet, bought one, but then
found it inoperative just before the opera and had to give up the
idea of doing it. I don't think 3 or 4 are the case, and I hope
that it is not (2). I would be heartbroken if he considered the
One final point and I'm done. One does even not need to own a
basset clarinet in B-flat to play this aria with the low d's in
place. I used to do it all the time. If one has a B-flat clarinet
that descends to low E-flat, a simple addition of a 1-1/4 inch
piece of wood between the lower joint and the bell causes a d to
sound sound when the low E-flat key is touched. Of course you lose
the E-flat, but that note is not need in the aria "Parto, Parto."
I did not discover that trick. It was Bill McColl in Seattle who
wrote a piece on how to do it for the Clarinet magazine. I took
the article and picture to my repairman and he built the temporary
extension for me for $35 and I keep it in my case. Originally I
got the piece made for the unfinished Mozart clarinet quintet
completed by Bob Levin, but found out very quickly that it worked
fine on the Titus aria. And the piece works fine on an A clarinet,
too, so I can descend to low d on my A as well. So what is all the
fuss about B-flat basset clarinets not being available from the
French makers all about?
I conclude with how I began this thread, one whose comments have
caused considerable testiness on the part of some of the members of
this list, and very surprisingly so. I just don't understand how
my suggestion could generate that kind of hostility. What I said
was that Morales played the aria last Saturday and he played it
magnificently, in my opinion. His musicianship is marvellous. His
sound was great. His facility with the instrument is a joy to
hear. He did not play several critical notes in the precise
octaves that Mozart requested chosing, instead, to use an inferior
version for whatever reason and causing unmusical leaps of an
octave on several occasions, not only for the notes in question,
but for passages surrounding them so that arrival and departure
from the note was not as disruptive as they might otherwise have
been. I think to be important. Others don't. Chacun a son
I began this note by suggesting that there is a revolution going
on. Ladies and gentlemen of this list, "to the barricades!!"
Dan Leeson, Los Altos, California
Rosanne Leeson, Los Altos, California