Klarinet Archive - Posting 000990.txt from 2000/07
Subj: [kl] Re:Learning practices (was Mozart's wife and Carl Maria Weber)
Date: Fri, 28 Jul 2000 10:42:13 -0400
Audrey Travis wrote:
> What exactly is meant when people talk about an"American" sound or a
> French" sound? I've never had this explained. Could you take a stab at it,
> please? And could you, or anyone else, please try to describe each of these
I see that Dan Leeson has misunderstood your question and deemed it unworthy
of my response. This should not surprise you.
If I understand your question correctly, I believe you are asking about the
differences between the different nationalities of ORCHESTRAL sounds, rather
than clarinet sounds.
Now Dan may have a point about it being difficult to tell the difference
between the 'sounds' of clarinet players of different nationalities. This is
because it is easy to be fooled by the sound alone. However, clarinet playing
is made up of much more than the sound itself. For instance, in certain
passages it is not difficult for the experienced ear to clearly identify
whether a German or French system clarinet is being played. This has nothing
to do with the 'sound,' which is subjective. . .it has to do with connections
between certain notes which will have a different character due to different
finger combinations. Anyone familiar with the two systems intimately (I spent
a summer in a section that was half and half, we tried trading, etc.) will
not find it difficult to tell the difference 90% of the time. Someone like
Greg Smith, who regularly performs on both (and who has extremely critical
ears and brains), may do even better.
I mention this not to irritate Dan, which is unavoidable, but because it can
be one clue used to identify the orchestra on an unidentified recording
(something I happen to be good at). I will give you some clues to figuring
these things out, but I will concentrate on pre WW II recordings as the
differences are much more clear and easier to describe in words. Basically,
it's one of those things you get to know after thousands of hours of
listening to lots of recordings. My comments will be very superficial, and
you will find exceptions, etc. but they should give you a slight idea what is
When listening to old Berlin, Dresden and Vienna recordings, you will likely
notice wind playing with no vibrato (including flute and double reeds). This
is often the way I identify the difference between these European orchestras
and American orchestras with German system principal clarinets (Boston,
Chicago, New York). The other wind players in these American orchestas mostly
use vibrato. Another difference is the silver flute used in France and the
US, while the British and Germans mostly used wood. A very subtle difference,
not always detectable, but combined with other factors it can be a clue.
Amsterdam's Concertgebow is a unique orchestra with a unique sound. It is
hard to describe but sound very distinctive on records under Mengelberg. This
combination is available on tons of cds and is well worth getting to know.
The quality of the playing itself can be a clue. If I hear a very virtuosic
performance of a difficult work, with particular virtuosity in the wind and
brass sections, my first thought is usually American. Stokowski/Philly 1929
Rite of Spring is a good example. You have to look many years forward before
you find another recording played nearly as well.
I am less familiar with old recordings of French orchestras, Italian
orchestras and English orchestras. If I hear an orchestra with woodwind
playing that is definately not American or German, I usually try to go over a
mental checklist to determine whether it is one of these three countries. The
French Bassoon is unmistakable (although, since it was used in Boston and
some British orchstras at the time, it cannot definitively be used as a
guide). After Leon Goosens appeared on the English scene, the oboe playing
there became quite distinctive. Kell's playing is also unmistakable.
To identify individual American orchestras unmistakably, as you asked in a
later question, it is best to be familiar with the sounds of individual
players and sections. Pre 1975 or so, this is really not very difficult to
do. In the years since 1975, the prevelance of multi-miking and orchestras
recording with a different engineer every time out has made identifying
American orchestras specifically on record more difficult. My suggestion is
that you buy a whole pile of recordings by Chicago/Reiner, Stock, Martinon
and Solti, Cleveland/Szell and Philly/Stokowski and Ormandy and before long
the differences will become obvious. Then you can move on to
Boston/Koussevitzky and Munch and New York/Mengelberg and Toscanini. With
those two it is interesting to hear the same orchestra sound completely
different in a short space of time due to very different conductors. How is
this possible? For the Germans, I suggest Bohm/Dresden, De Sabata/Berlin and
Furtwangler/Berlin (again, sounds like two different orchestras) and Vienna
under Walter, Furtwangler and Clemens Krauss.
Good luck. I can suggest individual cd issues if anyone is still reading.
Isn't it great that there are so few gigs in the summer?
David Hattner, NYC
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