Advertising and Web Hosting on Woodwind.Org!

Klarinet Archive - Posting 000125.txt from 2008/05

From: "Daniel Leeson" <>
Subj: RE: [kl] Bass in A
Date: Tue, 20 May 2008 11:01:46 -0400

These issues bothered me at one time, so I did an article on the subject.
See "The Clarinet," November/December 1993, Volume 21, Number 1, pp. 52-6,
"Some Remarks on the Bass Clarinet in A."

I did my best to grapple with these non trivial issues that you bring up. As
it turned out, the evidence pointed more towards the use of the bass in A in
the German orchestras. As I remember it, the article was fairly
comprehensive but not the doctoral dissertation that I suggested needed to
be done on the history of the instrument.

It is a very dim page in the history of the bass clarinet, but for those who
have written, "The bass clarinet in A is an obsolete instrument," they are
just expressing the parochial views of other authorities. If I were not so
involved with other research projects, this is one I would like to do more

It is just the kind of thing that Keith Bowen in the UK could do nicely.


P.S. And don't forget Wagner. His stuff is jam packed with Bass in A
sections. Of all the transpositions, the only one that gave me fear was bass
in A IN THE BASS CLEF. Half the time I wasn't sure in which register the
notes were supposed to be, and the standards varied from country to country.

-----Original Message-----
From: Karl Krelove []
Sent: Tuesday, May 20, 2008 7:44 AM
Subject: RE: [kl] Bass in A


I thought I remembered your having posted before about owning one yourself.
Both parts certainly would have been more comfortable on an A instrument
(probably needless to say, I did all of it on a Bb). But I'm more curious
about where Rachmaninoff in particular would have been exposed to an A bass
and whether in 1940s U.S. he would have had any reasonable expectation that
the instrument would be available, even in major orchestras. You were almost
certainly an exception in carrying both instruments around 20 years ago, but
would a player doing the same thing have been as much an exception 60 years
ago? 80? When was the A bass a commonly used member of the section in the
way that A soprano clarinets have (I imagine) always been, such that
composers like Mahler, Ravel and Rachmaninoff could have assumed (or at
least reasonably hoped) that what they'd asked for was what they'd get in


-----Original Message-----
From: Daniel Leeson []
Sent: Tuesday, May 20, 2008 9:52 AM
Subject: RE: [kl] Bass in A

Karl, while I cannot speak to Buffet's statement about never having made a
bass clarinet in A, I can speak about Selmer since I owned a bass in A made
by them about 20 years ago. I played it for about 5 years before retiring
and very much appreciated and enjoyed the instrument.

I am advised that Selmer may make one on special order but they no longer
have them in their catalog.

I pointed one person interested in having such an instrument to Steve Fox in
Canada and don't have any idea if Steve actually made one. But he did
contact me by email to inquire about whether or not my bass in A went down
to low C, so the discussion was beyond the casual inquiry stage.

I've played both the Rachmaninoff Symphonic Dances and the La Valse on an A
bass and my reaction was entirely visceral, namely that the sound character
of an A bass was noticeably different than a B-flat bass, to say nothing of
the fact that I didn't have to transpose into some weird keys signatures.

The Mahler symphonies often require both B-flat and A bass, with one of the
symphonies having a singer for the last movement. In that movement the bass
in A is called upon to play in a very awkward key signature, I think
something like 5 sharps. There was ample time to change to B-flat bass
before the part and also time to go back to A bass, but Mahler explicitly
called for an A bass, and that said something to me about Mahler's

The main reason why the instrument is so rare is not because of utilitarian
reasons, but rather economics and also shlepping, with many clarinetists
saying "why should I carry two basses when one will do"? I think that is a
very narrow and parochial view, but I am not going to drag that argument out

If I were ever to want to do orchestral work again, which is highly
unlikely, I'd get two bass clarinets. It was a joy to have them, each for
their own purpose.

Dan Leeson

-----Original Message-----
From: Karl Krelove []
Sent: Monday, May 19, 2008 7:43 PM
Subject: [kl] Bass in A

I'm curious to know how recently bass clarinets pitched in A were generally
available and in use among orchestral players. I'm not looking to re-open
the issue of the importance of playing on the instrument the composer
requested. Rather, I had the opportunity to play bass clarinet in several
performances of Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances this past week and was a
little surprised to find a section of about half a page of the first
movement written for bass clarinet in A. This in a piece composed, I assume,
in the U.S. in 1941, not turn-of-the century Europe (we also played La valse
on the same program with a great deal of the bass part in A - but that
doesn't puzzle me nearly as much). Am I wrong to suspect that the instrument
was already more or less extinct in the US by 1941? Could this have been a
copyist's decision, since the other two clarinets are in A for the section
in question, that the bass ought also to be in A?






     Copyright © Woodwind.Org, Inc. All Rights Reserved    Privacy Policy    Contact