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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000235.txt from 2010/05

From: "Colin Touchin" <>
Subj: [kl] clarinets in original key
Date: Thu, 27 May 2010 05:51:14 -0400

Hi Keith - I agree with all you write (and did indeed enjoy your C's in the
Beethoven 5!). What I was implying in my post was that as the thread had
been extended (from a useful discussion on using the original instrument in
D or Eb to using instruments of the appropriate timbre/country of origin,
etc.) there seems a lot we clarinettists talk about that fascinates us and
genuinely improves and develops our understanding of our instrument and
its repertoire, but unless all other members of the orchestra (chamber
ensemble with piano, strings, other) we're in are doing the same relative to
their history and timbre we run the risk of being the only, or one of the few,
aiming to play with such an approach, which may not aurally ring well with
other players and so might be less effective as an interpretation (we'd be
the ones out of step).
(For example, isn't the wind quintet odd? - flute, oboe and usually bassoon
use a fair bit of vibrato, but most clarinets and horns don't - how could a
string ensemble ever work that way?)
That's not to say we shouldn't consider and develop the lineage of our
sounds, but we have to be realistic and also 21st-century about this. A
present-day ensemble is made up of players of modern instruments
playing, with modern ears and understanding and training, a repertoire that
was previously played by differently-manufactured instruments - we are
doing something up-to-date, something only we now can do, and the
interpretations of conductors and players cannot help but be as
contemporary as possible, with all the knowledge we have of the past and
all the availability of modern-made instruments in whatever keys. But do
we see/hear trumpeters and hornists with this variety of kit we clarinettists
like to explore, who have similar numbers of keys to play in, transposed or
not. Their timbral ranges are inevitably more limited nowadays due to the
one-tube-with-valves-fits-all music, where previously changing tubes for
different keys inevitably created different timbres in different registers.
I also agree that using the composer's chosen instrument is better than not,
because the choice may have been specific for reasons we either can
fathom out or never will understand. But it's not always certain - as I
mentioned on the list a few years back, Stravinsky allowed clarinettists in
the late 30's to play Bb on A or A on Bb to help fingering if the player chose
in Petroushka (story from Antony Baines); yet noone could play his Three
Pieces other than on the instruments he specified and we all work hard in
timbral control to prove the value of that distinction..
What works in the end then is the total sound of the whole ensemble - if
your C's were helpfully enveloped by understanding and responsive players
our Beethoven 5 would/should have felt/sounded a little different from
many 20th-century performances both sides of the podium. If a conductor
or the clarinet section insists in Strauss on all the right tunings being
employed, the whole orchestra needs to be told to listen, to adjust, to make
those considerations musically valuable in the performance the audience
shares (and it would be good if we could find out from them who know the
repertoire well if they noticed a difference, enough of a difference to
warrant the use, even a better difference from previous accounts!)
Of course .. we could all simply aim to sound more German in that
repertoire whatever tubes we blow!! Cheers, Colin.
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