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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000228.txt from 2010/05

From: Simon Aldrich <>
Subj: Re: [kl] Clarinet in C
Date: Mon, 24 May 2010 14:39:56 -0400

Danyel wrote: " how about having a historically correct clarinet made?
Strauss did not write for Boehm system instruments and the C clarinet
called for by Schubert has very little in common with the kind of
instrument discussed here. Would that not also produce a "sonic
character that is not what the composer had in mind"?"

In my opinion Danyel, you have touched on an important notion. The
sound of modern clarinets is very removed from that of classical-era
clarinets; the sound that Mozart, Beethoven and even Schubert had in
their ears when they composed. It makes the issue of playing classical-
era music on the right *modern* instrument (A, Bb or C) irrelevant to
some people, so different is the sound of the modern clarinet from the
classical-era instrument. (However, in many minds, the issue of
playing classical-era music on the right *classical-era* instrument is
highly relevant.) I am, of course, not talking about Strauss C
clarinet parts, but rather, music written almost 150 years earlier.

>I can hardly play French music written in 1925 on anything but a
French clarinet made in around 1925.
>This would of cause be entirely inappropriate (even though I use
Albert instruments) for Brahms.

You are getting to the heart of why people play different period
instruments for different periods of music, as though the sonic
characteristics of the instrument used at the time and place of the
piece's composition can not be divorced from the piece itself.

A maker of classical-era clarinets opined that the wind ensemble
writing of Mozart is justification alone for period instruments.
There are many who agree with him. When you play or hear the Mozart
wind serenades played by a good period ensemble (Zefiro, Orch of the
Age of Enlightenment, Orch of the 18th Century, etc) the difference in
*fundamental* sound quality of their instruments is, in my opinion,
too much to ignore, too different to keep sweeping under the rug the
issue of playing Mozart on Mozart-era instruments.
Of course the music itself is wonderful played on modern instruments
as well. Puritanism is not the point here. For some the point is that
there is enrichment in exploring the instruments for which the music
was written, since those instruments are so crucially and
intrinsically different from those of today.
Along the lines of what you are saying Danyel, there are those who
feel that often with an advance in clarinet design (especially bore
modification to increase projection) we move further away from the
intimate, vocal nature of the early instruments and therefore further
away from the spirit of earlier composers.

Interestingly, I have noticed that, from time to time, there is a
disquiet that descends on players of modern instruments. For example
when a clarinetist has been playing in an orchestra for a decade or
two on modern instruments, something in the way all music is played
fundamentally the same way starts to chafe. Playing in large
orchestras, often in big, dead halls, it's all about being heard;
about having a sonic presence in all registers, at all dynamics, in
all musical situations. This leads us to tweak our equipment to
extract every last bit of presence and projection. We get mouthpieces
that project more, instruments that have more "ping" and "ring",
ligatures that permit better vibration of the reed for more volume and
projection and on and on. String players talk about similar phenomena
on string instruments; they set up their instruments (higher-tension
strings, choice of bow, etc) to cut through in Strauss and Mahler and
then hate the way they sound in Mozart.
As a result, the approach to playing music of different eras becomes
interchangeable and indistinguishable. A modern orchestra stars
playing with one homogeneous, uniform, unvaried sound.
One of my favorite early clarinetists, Lorenzo Coppola, put it this
way in an interview:
"I have been playing modern clarinet many years in orchestras and
chamber music ensembles in Italy. I have always found my musical
activities somehow superficial, unsatisfying or disappointing. I was
always surprised considering the very little effort that my colleagues
and I were doing in general in analyzing and interpreting music. We
did not pay much attention to style and the general approach to pieces
made no difference between Mozart and Poulenc, for example. We used
the same patterns, same definitions, and same words to pieces that
could be 200 years apart from each other. We had only one vocabulary,
universal, and valid for everything. We had no idea of what were our
instruments before being as they appear today."

>Sure enough, various clarinets, being quite different in feel,
intonation, keywork, produce enormous problems if you have to switch
all the time,
>hence I am afraid this would not be an option for a regular
orchestra musician.

There are not a lot of options for orchestral musicians when it comes
to what you are talking about (using the appropriate instrument for
the repertoire in question). There is so much repertoire to learn,
perform and record and the context of present-day classical music is
so perfection-oriented that there is no room for the variations of
sound and intonation introduced by playing modern orchestral
repertoire on the instruments for which it was written. Sometimes the
orchestral schedule is so intense and demanding that is seems you do
what you need to do, to live to see another day. But the feeling of
being a remunerated air-compressor can erode the spirit and at a
certain point you start to look for musical opportunities that "mean
something". Usually that means chamber music or period-instrument
performance; music in which you are not part of a big loud band (to
put in crudely) but rather music in which you have the opportunity to
draw a line of communication between yourself and every person in the

>On the same line it appears a practical solution that if you have to
play on modern standard instruments with the capacity to play
>difficult passages in x flats or sharps, why not play everything on
the e-flat and Bb you are used to?

Among clarinetists there is a cycle of prevailing attitudes. When I
was at university, the old-school teachers were big on transposing
everything. Every etude had to be transposed up a major second (to
learn to transpose C parts) and down a minor second (to learn to
transpose A parts). You were a wimp if you played an A part on A
clarinet and an unspeakable, unpardonable wimp if you played a C part
on C clarinet (the horror!). To a certain degree the pendulum has
swung the other way. For some, your integrity is now for sale if you
don't play the part on the instrument for which it was written.

>I am hearing a lot of historically "authentic" performances with a
level of technical proficiency so low it is certainly not what the
composers wanted either.

You are right but that is another ball of wax. Anyone can buy an late
18th-century clarinet on eBay for a couple of hundred bucks, get a
grant and make a recording.
There are, however, a number of wonderful period performers out there.
Their playing and recordings are compelling grounds for the notion of
playing classical-era music on classical-era instruments. Too often,
bad or inexperienced period performers and their recordings are used
as argument against the value and consequence of period instruments.

Thanks for raising interesting points Danyel.
Simon Aldrich

Clarinet Faculty - McGill University
Principal Clarinet - Orchestre Metropolitain de Montreal
Principal Clarinet - Orchestre de l'Opera de Montreal
Artistic Director - Jeffery Summer Concerts
Clarinet - Nouvel Ensemble Moderne
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