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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000386.txt from 2004/08

From: "dnleeson" <>
Subj: RE: [kl] K. 581 performance practice
Date: Fri, 13 Aug 2004 10:49:38 -0400

Let me make two points: the fact that you don't hear many
clarinetists doing very much improvisation in K. 581 doesn't mean
that one should not do any. What it means is that most clarinets
(1) don't know about 18th century performance prctice, or (2) are
not comfortable improvising, or (3) don't think it is necessary
under the argument of gilding the lily, or (4) have had no
experience improvising in the classic repertoire. So because you
don't hear these things on recordings is not a valid reason to
presume that what I shared with you is not true.

Second point: since you have had the kind of background you
describe, it might be best for you to work with someone in Tucson
who can guide you in how to begin thinking about improvisation.
I don't know who is there now besides your teacher and Jerry
Kirkbride. The former clarinet teacher at U of A (who died only
a couple of years ago) refused to improvise (though he was an
excellent jazz clarinetist) because he believed that the music
was beautiful enough with it. We spoke about that issue many
times. You are not going to find many people with whom you can
talk about this subject. But try the piano faculty and ask any
of them what their thoughts are about improvising in the Mozart
piano concerti. If one or more of them is familiar with the
practice, work with them for a while.

In sum and substance, most contemporary clarinet players have
moved away for the bag of working tools that was expected of
every 18th century clarinetist. Therefore you will find
difficulty in finding someone who can teach you. (By the way, if
you think that Tony Pay can't improvise, you must listen to his
recording of the piano quintet, K. 452 with Robert Levin. There
you will see that he is quite comfortable with the practice under
the circumstances of that work.)

You asked what the performance practice was for 581 and I told
you what the practice was for repeats. It is up to you to decide
if you can or even want to do the music that way.

I add that in thinking about your first posting, I was not
descriptive enough. For example, when you suggested that some of
the players only wanted to play half (or even less) of the slow
movement because it was too boring, I kind of got the idea that
the group had no respect for the music at all. You can's assert
respect for that music and at the same time suggest that you are
going to cut it in various ways to avoid the boredom.

And then you said that you (or the other players) want to
eliminate the repeats because the work is boring with them in
shows only that you are uncomfortable or uninformed with the
structure of a piece of 18th century music and what you must do
to work within that structure. Even your reference to what Tony
Pay played in "the cadenza" of the final movement is confused.
There is no cadenza in the final movement (nor in the slow
movement, either). What is there is something else entirely and
what you are supposed to do there can be found in a book on
performance practice. There are many books on performance
practice and, depending on the time available to you and your
seriousness of purpose, you may not want to dip your toe into
that ocean.

It is as if you had said, "Let's paint the Venus di Milo red
because all that white marble is boring. And while we're at it,
buy a couple of arms from a mannekin and glue them on." Such an
assertion (which is effectively what you suggested about 581)
would show that you don't appreciate classic Greek statuary.

Dan Leeson

-----Original Message-----
From: Andy Raibeck []
Sent: Thursday, August 12, 2004 8:34 PM
Subject: RE: [kl] K. 581 performance practice

Dan, thank you for your thoughtful reply. It does indeed place
things in

> Now if none of the players has the imagination to create
> intelligent (and not overdone) improvisations, then maybe you
> should consider doing the Weber quintet which requires much
> imagination than 581).

What do you think of modern performances of 581? I own several
including Tony Pay's. They mostly all take the repeats, but in
following along
with the score, I don't notice any improvisation (except for the
little cadenza
that Tony adds near the end of the fourth movement, just before
the main theme
is reprised). I also heard it played live at this year's Oklahoma
Symposium, and though I didn't have the score to follow along, I
don't believe
there was any improvisation; yet it was a lovely performance.

While I have not your expertise in this matter, it does seem a
bit harsh to
effectively say, "if you can't improvise then don't play the
piece", and thus
deny the joys of playing Mozart to many. (And for what it's
worth, Weber just
doesn't do it for me.) But with that said, I can't deny that the
ability to
improvise on those repeated passages would make things more

> It always amazes me that players of the 20th century don't know
> very much about what 18th century players did, and nowhere is
> this more true than in the use of repeats.

Let me take a moment (or, rather, a few moments) to give you some
background on
myself. I studied the clarinet from the 7th through 12th grades.
I started
taking private lessons in... I think it may have been 9th grade.
I studied for
a year with Ken Legace, then for three years with Henry Larsen,
both at the
Hartt College of Music. My instruction did not include much in
the way of music
history, but was focused more on learning the instrument, with
some study of
the literature. I suspect that, for better or for worse, my
experience is not
unusual in this regard. After graduating high school in 1980, I
majored in music, and at the time had to decide between
invitations to attend
the University of Connecticut as a computer engineering major or
the Hartt
College as a music major. I opted for computers, and despite
thinking that I
could still play on the side, my clarinet ended up gathering dust
for the next
22 years.

In 2001, overhearing a chance conversation between two colleagues
at work, I
learned that one of my colleagues played viola in The Foothills
Phil, a local
intergenerational orchestra here in Tucson, AZ. For whatever
reason, that
rekindled my interest in playing, though I did nothing further
with it for
another year. In the summer of 2002, I dusted off my clarinet and
playing again, and have been rapidly making up for lost time. I
have the good
fortune to be able to study with Carol Christofferson, who is not
only a fine
musician, but a wonderful educator. She not only coaches me on my
playing, but
I have recently started down the path of learning music theory,
history, and
pedagogy (I'd like to teach at some time in the future). At this
time I am
preparing for an end-of-year recital that will feature the

Bearing all of this in mind, I do not know why you should be
amazed at my lack
of 18th-century performance practice. I'm sure that many players
are in my same
situation. Reading this list, asking questions, and participating
when I think
I have something of value to add (off-topic posts
notwithstanding) helps
further my understanding.

> Did you really think that those repeats were there for

If I did, do you really think I'd have bothered to ask in the
first place?

Thanks again,


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