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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000362.txt from 1999/04

From: Martin Pergler <>
Subj: Re: [kl] Bells up in Mahler
Date: Tue, 6 Apr 1999 21:04:32 -0400

On Tue, 6 Apr 1999, Phil Shapiro wrote:

> I tend to agree with Dan's assessment of this situation.    Bells Up
> certainly isn't going to excite the audience visually.  And it does
> nothing for the instrument's sound.  I have always ignored this marking.

I've played Mahler 5 once--last month with our university orchestra.
We did bells up to the best of our ability. Several audience members
commented on noticing bells up, so I'm not sure I'd agree with
Phil's "visual" statement.

Acoustically, what's relevant here is that different frequencies
propagate differently in various directions. Oversimplifying, with
the clarinet in normal playing position, lower frequencies propagate
largely up and out from tone holes, while higher frequencies
propagate more strongly radially out from the bell. This would imply
that playing "bells up" should make upper partials relatively more
prominent. But things are not that simple because of
reflections---the sound coming out of the bell (back in normal
playing position) gets reflected off the stage floor, etc. and in
fact the sound reaching listeners' ears has been reflected from many
surfaces, and so this effect is probably at least partially
equalized. But it does not seem unreasonable to suppose that the
spectrum and hence timbre as perceived out in the audience will
shift at least slightly with bells up.
WARNING: the last time I talked acoustics on this board I was wrong!

During one full-orchestra rehearsal, the 1st oboe and I asked 5
musical friends who dropped in to listen whether it made a
difference whether we played bells up or bells down. Two said yes,
one said maybe, one said no, and one forgot to pay attention. Who
knows whether they were influenced by the visual aspect.

Incidentally, I'd be wary of experimenting by having one clarinetist
on an empty (or depopulated) stage trying bells up / bells down. I
would hypothesize that the first order reflection from the floor
when playing bells down alone on stage might be more prominent than
when the stage is full of musicians, making the difference less
audible. I'm not saying it *is* the case, just that it might be.

Personally, I thought it worthwhile to bring it out even for the
visual effect alone. The interruptive effect of clarinets and oboes
coming in with a "sniping" stacatto passage over a string phrase is
heightened (I feel) by having all of them raise their bell
simultaneously. The bar-apart entrances in the 3rd movement are
emphasized visually by having each section member raise the bell
when entering. Why not do it even if it might only be choreography?

Mind you, I am a tall and healthy player who was excited to be
playing my 2nd-ever Mahler symphony. I don't know how I'd feel if I
were playing the work for the 8th time, were 5'3", and had a bad

Of course, all this does not solve the question of when to put bells
down, or what to do with silly bells up markings like for bass
clarinet, or where only one member of a section has bells up (is it
an error? deliberate?).


Martin Pergler
Grad student, Mathematics
Univ. of Chicago

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