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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000504.txt from 1999/10

From: (Tony Pay)
Subj: [kl] The first two bars
Date: Sun, 17 Oct 1999 13:53:11 -0400

Following on from the thread about embellishments in classical music --
'what thread was that?' I hear you cry -- I want to make an observation
about the first two bars of the Mozart clarinet concerto, and how we may
think of them.

The background is that I have just been directing a performance of a
piece of (newly-discovered?) second-rate Mozart wind music -- if indeed
it is by Mozart at all. (My own view is that it *is* by Mozart, in the
end, but there is some disagreement about the matter.)

Anyhow, during the course of this performance, it became obvious that it
was absolutely necessary, as opposed to merely desirable, that the
players embellish some repetitions in order to make sense of what was
written. So I was involved in encouraging them to do this, and also in
making some suggestions of what they might actually do.

Engaging in this process made me very conscious again of what is in the
mind of the player who habitually embellishes. In particular, I was
struck even more forcibly this time by what is the natural response of
such a player (one who habitually embellishes, that is) to the idea of
embellishing a descending minor third. Several such embellishments were
called for in the piece we were playing.

Almost the first thing that occurs to you, if you have to embellish a
descending minor third, is to begin the embellishment with an
appoggiatura a tone higher than the first note, and to descend stepwise
to the second note, filling in the gap between the two notes that
constitute the falling third -- just as Mozart does in the concerto
(though he writes it out in order to ensure that the second part, a
third lower, does likewise).

In fact, I have said here previously that the second bar of the Mozart
concerto is an embellishment of the first bar. (I admit that I noticed
this only a few years ago myself.)

Perhaps some people here remember my saying this, and some may even have
thought it an interesting observation.

However, it's worth repeating, I think, because looking at the first two
bars of the concerto in this way undermines a very common modern sort of
interpretation that 'swoons' its 'meaningful' way from the first to the
second bar, as though what Mozart has written in these two bars is
already a stroke of genius in itself.

Which of course, it isn't.

Though I have no experience of the matter, it would not surprise me to
learn that this 'swooning' approach is precisely the way in which
certain 'legendary' performers (not 'necessarily' Americans, I hasten to
add), have 'taught' the passage. (I merely borrow here the language that
I have encountered on this list. That sort of 'teaching' is anathema to

Anyway, what my recent experience with the wind group has done is to
underline for me yet again how ridiculous this 'modern' interpretation
would have appeared to an eighteenth-century musician, for whom the
obvious structural relationship would have gone without saying.

My point is that, for us, understanding embellishment may illuminate
even the music that we play exactly as it is written.

(In passing, I apologise for possibly having bored the gentleman who
finds that he has been given an imprimatur to play 'just how he fancies'
by his deeply meaningful conversation with Messiaen.

I also want to say that I put the cork grease on the tenons of the upper
joint with my right hand. Then I wipe my right hand, and switch to the
left hand for the lower joint, thus avoiding (possibly, by an as yet
unelucidated process) damage to the bell by the application of external

_________ Tony Pay
|ony:-) 79 Southmoor Rd
| |ay Oxford OX2 6RE GMN family artist:
tel/fax 01865 553339

... If this were an actual tagline, would it be funny?

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