Klarinet Archive - Posting 001256.txt from 1998/03
From: "Dan Leeson: LEESON@-----.edu>
Subj: This business of instrumental substitution
Date: Sat, 28 Mar 1998 17:39:30 -0500
In a recent and very interesting discussion of the importance of
orchestral 2nd instruments, Av Galper brought up several cases where
Karel Ancerl made instrumental substitutions because of the
difficulty of the material as written. I think Av mentioned the
use of the 2nd clarinet or an English horn to play the very difficult
low note in place of the 2nd oboe.
This business of instrumental substitution goes on constantly, so
much so, that it has become a standard part of the orchestral world.
I recently had a lengthy and somewhat quarrelsome discussion on the
double reed bulletin board with respect to the use of the contrabassoon
instead of the string bass in the Gran Partitta.
And this entire realm of substituting one instrument for another
for what are suggested to be valid reasons also includes as a
valid subset, the realm of substituting one clarinet for another
including B-flat for A (and vice versa) and, to the heart of the
matter, either the B-flat or A for a C clarinet. It also
subsumes the issue we spoke of at some length on this list about
3 months ago when the performance of Mozart's Titus was on the
radio and a clarinet of traditional compass was used instead of
one with a low d on it.
All of these apparently different problems (which are in reality
a single problem that takes on many forms) center around the
assertion that "All that matters is pitch!" That is to say,
when we play a work and certain instrumental problems arise,
it is satisfactory to solve the problems by playing the requested
pitch on another instrument.
Timbre, chararacter of sound, and composer intention is invariably
made into a secondary consideration as long as pitch requests
are satisfied, ... by anyone who happens to be free at the moment.
The contrabassoon discussion of the Gran Partitta was caused by
the other party suggesting that the contrabassoon "sounded better"
in the ensemble, and my retort (which I said tongue in cheek but
with good reason) was that I thought it sounded better with a
Ultimately, this is where it all leads. Reasonable people, trying
to solve individual performance problems, take a pragmatic
position, substituting this for that, B-flat clarinet for C
clarinet, clarinet for oboe, contrabassoon for string bass,
bass clarinet for bassoon, and eventually one can argue that
pitched timpani can be substituted for piccolo since the
pitch has been preserved (but not the register).
This is the slippery slope that one gets to in all these
instrumental substitutions, from Till Eulenspiegel's
D clarinet part, to Mozart K. 622, to Sousa marches played
by a band without an E-flat cornet, to a wind quintet
arrangement of Beethoven, Op. 103. In every case, pitch
has been preserved, but timbre, character, and composer
intent have not.
It is unchecked instrumental arrogance to presume that these
things don't matter and that there is no significant impact on
the music as a result of these decisions.
And while I'm on a high horse, the E-flat clarinet being called
an "eefer" is creeping into our discussions more and more.
Shall be now call the B-flat clarinet a "beefer" and a D
clarinet a "deefer," etc. Dignity, ladies and gentlemen,
dignity. It is an E-flat clarinet. Anything that makes money
for us should be called by its real name, not a nickname
that sounds as if it were invented in the hills of Appalachia.
Excluse me please, my keepers are coming to lock me up again.
Send a cake with a file baked into it, please.
Dan Leeson, Los Altos, California
Rosanne Leeson, Los Altos, California