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 using "period instruments" to play late 19th and early 20th century music
Author: ruben 
Date:   2019-06-03 23:03

Pretty much everybody accepts the validity of using "historically informed" instruments to play Mozart, Schubert and Beethoven, but what about using instruments from their respective periods to play Brahms, Mahler, Debussy and Stravinsky. This is done these days, but do you feel there is anything artistically to be gained from this practice?

rubengreenbergparisfrance@gmail.com


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 Re: using
Author: brycon 
Date:   2019-06-04 00:14

Brahms and Schumann are somewhat regularly performed on Ottensteiner clarinets.

But if "historical" Brahms clarinet concerts don't seem as frequent as Mozart ones, the prohibitive costs might have something to do with it. As someone who plays old clarinets, I see that the demand for historical Brahms symphonic concerts is basically nonexistent (here in the US). Historical-instrument orchestras operate on tight budgets, which makes assembling a Romantic-sized ensemble difficult--especially when considering that the orchestra isn't likely to make any more money in ticket sales from a Brahms concert as it would from a Mozart or Beethoven performance. There's no incentive, then, for players to go out and purchase an Ottensteiner, which can cost more than a modern clarinet, to play maybe one concert every five years (maybe...). Of course, some people make their own instruments, some specialize only in historical performance, and some have money to burn; I imagine these are the people playing historical Brahms concerts.

Debussy and Stravinsky, however, postdate the Boehm-system clarinet by roughly half a century. So Stravinsky Three Pieces on a Buffet sort of is a historical performance. :)



Post Edited (2019-06-04 00:17)

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 Re: using
Author: ruben 
Date:   2019-06-04 17:17

Brycon: true! But there's also chamber music. I own a clarinet that looks identical to Richard Muhlfeld's (spelling?) and the difficulty is finding a piano I can play it with. It's pitched very low; around A-435 or so, and has rather a small sound. I don't play it very well, but if I found the right pianist, that would motivate me to improve, because it does change your musical perspective of Brahms' two sonatas.

rubengreenbergparisfrance@gmail.com


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 Re: using
Author: kdk 2017
Date:   2019-06-04 17:52

But, then, how different would the piano need to be to be equally period-appropriate? My impression is that concert pianos have changed significantly over the past 100+ years to accommodate larger halls and larger orchestras.

So, another naive question, having grown up and grown old with pianos that were nominally tuned (when they were maintained at all) to A440: are pianos designed and built to tune within narrow pitch ranges? Does a modern piano meant to be used in an American orchestral environment (440-442) need to be built differently from one meant to be played in (modern) German concert settings, where the pitch is significantly higher? Would the lower pitches in (so I've read) contemporary Russia or 19th century Germany require structural differences in the pianos? I'm wondering if, in your case, simply dropping the pitch of modern piano strings 5 Hz would also result in flabby tone quality and response, making that kind of stylistic resurrection a potentially expensive affair. Would an entirely new set of strings or, worse, a differently built piano be needed.

Karl

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 Re: using
Author: Ursa 
Date:   2019-06-04 19:31

Karl:

There are reports that 19th century documents from Steinway and Chickering indicate that their pianos were designed to be tuned anywhere from A=435 to A=460, and there are extant Steinway and Broadwood tuning forks that encompass that entire range of standards.

Think of all the old pianos that you (and I) have encountered that are survivors from the A=455 era. They continue to perform satisfactorily brought down to 440.

Adjusting the pitch of a piano can result in a piano that doesn't stay in tune for very long until the strings and structure of the piano fully adjust to the new standard. And, adjusting a piano upward in pitch is often best done gradually.

A best practice, therefore, would be to devote a piano for sub-440 tuning, and leave its pitch set at that standard.



Post Edited (2019-06-04 19:35)

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 Re: using
Author: brycon 
Date:   2019-06-04 21:43

Quote:

Brycon: true! But there's also chamber music.


Yes, but the implicit point I hoped to make was that without any demand in the historical-instrument orchestra world, people aren't likely to invest in an Ottensteiner clarinet in the first place. Moreover, finding a suitable piano can be problematic...

Quote:

But, then, how different would the piano need to be to be equally period-appropriate?


Brahms used several pianos during his career. At his home, he played a Streicher instrument, and, if I remember correctly, when he travelled or performed in public, he played a Bosendorfer. At least one of the Streichers Brahms played had leather-covered hammers, Viennese action, and parallel stringing. I've heard these types of instruments before: they have a more mellow sound (compared to modern cross-strung pianos), distinct color changes from bass to treble, and an overall lightness and transparency.

These pianos are the ones I would try to use if I were playing a concert on the Ottensteiner clarinets. Whereas even with a modern Buffet the thickness of Brahms's piano writing has the potential to overwhelm the clarinet, the Ottensteiner has an even lighter timbre. A good pianist, of course, will be sensitive to these issues, so I imagine an Ottensteiner-Steinway pairing is possible. But in terms of balance and matching, the Streicher is a better option, in my opinion.



Post Edited (2019-06-04 21:45)

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 Re: using
Author: Clarimellonet 
Date:   2019-06-04 22:48

As a period clarinet specialist, I definitely get more play time out of my Lotz and Grenser copies per year than the original Ottensteiner Bb and A I own, but I'm incredibly fortunate that the ensembles I perform with in the US call for A438-440 late Romantic instruments on a regular basis. Just this season, I've done the following sets on my Ottensteiner instruments:

Brahms 3 and Mendelssohn 3 (Mendelssohn is a bit anachronistic, but it saved us having to do the concert at two pitches)

Rubinstein 4th Piano Concerto (also somewhat anachronistic, but worthwhile on romantic instruments)

Brahms Requiem

Another Brahms Requiem just last weekend

When I purchased these instruments from a collector back in 2012, I did so not knowing if I'd ever end up using them more than once a year. I'm very glad that I've been able to, though I did end up having to build new mouthpieces without the metal facing. Much like Mühlfeld, I found the metal facing more hindering than helpful, though I did find it interesting that Ottensteiner included a metal bite guard on the beak in the new mouthpieces he remade for Mühlfeld after their correspondence. Interestingly, the originals I own are very happy either at the "low" pitch of around 437 or a "higher" 440 pitch, though I did have to make shorter barrels to get the pitch that high. I've played a number of Baermann-System clarinets in the past, and most are pretty stable around 437-440 provided the right mouthpiece is used. Both conical bore and straight bore mouthpieces work, though the originals are almost always conical with an exit bore around 15.0 to 15.2mm

In the past I've used these instruments for Wagner, Strauss, and Mahler, though they obviously feel most at home with the Brahms sonatas and chamber repertoire. When I've been asked about the "early music" movement pushing so far forward, I've always emphasized that the "historical performance" aspect of what I do is much more concerned with recapturing the sound of the music through the techniques, phrasing, and rhetoric of the performance, and that the instrument is just an extension of that research. Obviously, the instrument is the most visible part of such research, but in preparing late romantic music, I'm much more interested in the tempo flexibility, treatment of note connections, and rubato, particularly when it comes to Brahms. Having been fortunate to do the Brahms Quintet multiple times on period instruments, I can definitely say that the FEEL of the music is radically different, particularly in the second movement, however, much of that feeling if not most, comes from attempting to look at the text on the page with fresh eyes and ears. The clarinets help me get there, but the majority of the work is done by deciphering the music itself.

I have a few more calls for the late 19th century instruments this year, including a performance at ClarinetFest this summer. Unfortunately, my orchestra is pushing Brahms 4 back to the 2020-21 season, so we won't get to complete the cycle in the fall. Incidentally, I'll be rehearsing the Brahms 2nd sonata and Schumann Fantasiestücke with an old Streicher piano in Boston next Wednesday, so I'll report back on how the clarinets like being paired with that piano.

Thomas Carroll
Historical Clarinets and Chalumeaux
http://carrollclarinet.com
lotzofgrenser@gmail.com

Post Edited (2019-06-04 22:49)

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 Re: using
Author: ruben 
Date:   2019-06-05 01:14

Thomas: I've learned so much from your "thread"; to use the barbaric word! Question: what do you, or would you use for late 19th century French music? I have an 1883 Couesnon that I find very good for Saint Saëns, Gounod, Lalo, etc. Once again, the pitch is low: around A-435. It has no barrel-upper joint and barrel all of a piece-so intonation is an issue. Thank you so much for enlightening us!

rubengreenbergparisfrance@gmail.com


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 Re: using "period instruments" to play late 19th and early 20th century music
Author: nellsonic 
Date:   2019-06-05 08:38

Thomas, thank you for the wonderful and clearly written post. I'm currently preparing both the Brahms Quintet and Trio for performance and have been increasingly interested in the historical aspects of performance in order to freshen and deepen my own approach. Are there recordings or Youtube videos you would recommend of these works?

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 Re: using "period instruments" to play late 19th and early 20th century music
Author: Liquorice 
Date:   2019-06-05 09:43

ruben: you might want to consider contacting Andreas Schöni in Bern. He makes historical clarinet reproductions. He has developed an ingenious way of changing the pitch of an entire clarinet using mouthpiece/barrel combinations. I don't fully understand what he does but it has something to do with where the cone in the mouthpiece starts and the overall volume of the mouthpiece/barrel interior. He is successfully able to change the pitch of an instrument around 5Hz up or down. He might be able to help bring your 19th century instruments up to A=440.

He has just finished making a pair of Ottensteiner copies for a clarinetist who will be playing Wagner's Ring with Concerto Köln. The orchestra have made the questionable decision of playing everything at A=435, so Andreas has built the instruments to play at this lower pitch. I tried the instruments a few weeks ago and they are some of the most beautiful clarinets I've ever had to pleasure to play on.

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 Re: using
Author: Clarimellonet 
Date:   2019-06-05 19:06
Attachment:  Screen Shot 2019-06-04 at 11.06.16 AM.png (1866k)

Ruben: For late 19th and early 20th music from France, I used to have a beautiful matched set of Buffets from 1901 that had the integral barrel setup. They were a little below A440, but with the right mouthpiece, I could get them to 440 and they sounded quite nice. I ended up using an old Lelandais Artistic Facing mouthpiece with these instruments, and that seemed to get the right sound I was looking for, but ultimately, I wasn't doing enough work on them, so I ended up selling them to a collector and keeping the mouthpiece in my collection.

The mouthpiece that came with the clarinets was absolutely beautiful, but didn't work at all. It was a Chedeville blank finished by Robert with a silver table and facing. I haven't tried to find a Robert clarinet for it, but it made the Buffets play a little on the low side, so I just keep it in my collection.

I'm a big fan of the integral barrel Buffets, but they weren't standard. Bonade played on "newer" models throughout his career that he inherited from Rose after his studies at the Conservatoire. If I'm remembering correctly, these were small bore Buffets (probably something close to 14.6mm with a straight bore) which were very much different from the post-WWI Buffets that are much more common today with relatively large bores. Given that there was still a divide between "band" players and pedagogical practices and "orchestra/opera" players, this is to be expected, but I would try to find small bore instruments if you can.

There are some players for whom we know the specific instrument, so these are easier to track down. Henri Akoka premiered "Quatour pour la Fin de Temps" on a Couesnon Monopole clarinet with a mouthpiece made by Perrier. I have a Couesnon/Perrier mouthpiece in my collection with a facing that is incredibly "French." Very narrow throat and parallel sidewalls as well.

Just as with the German instruments, it's much more about the playing techniques of the time period. It's been a dream of mine to do "L'Histoire" on period instruments (including gut strings on the violin and bass) for quite a while. Of course, that was premiered in Switzerland, so that opens up a whole other facet of research. It's an ongoing process...

Thomas Carroll
Historical Clarinets and Chalumeaux
http://carrollclarinet.com
lotzofgrenser@gmail.com

Post Edited (2019-06-05 19:22)

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 Re: using
Author: ruben 
Date:   2019-06-05 22:58

Thomas: I knew M. Akoka when I was a youngster and he was at the end of his playing career. He was still playing the same Couesnon and would change reeds about every 6 months!

rubengreenbergparisfrance@gmail.com


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 Re: using "period instruments" to play late 19th and early 20th century music
Author: shmuelyosef 
Date:   2019-06-13 23:06

This is an interesting discussion. Lots of folks I know use their 'traditional' 50-75 year old instruments to play modern music...that seems to work just fine and nobody questions it.

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 Re: using "period instruments" to play late 19th and early 20th century music
Author: Tony Pay 2017
Date:   2019-06-15 01:21

>> ...what about using instruments from their respective periods to play Brahms, Mahler, Debussy and Stravinsky. This is done these days, but do you feel there is anything artistically to be gained from this practice? >>

If you're an artist, there might well be.

If not, more than likely, not.

Tony

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 Re: using "period instruments" to play late 19th and early 20th century music
Author: ruben 
Date:   2019-06-15 10:10

Tony: How about making a You Tube video: "Introducing Brahms' Clarinet"? We would love to have that.

rubengreenbergparisfrance@gmail.com


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 Re: using "period instruments" to play late 19th and early 20th century music
Author: Tony Pay 2017
Date:   2019-06-15 16:23

>> How about making a You Tube video: "Introducing Brahms' Clarinet"? >>

I don't think that would help. Playing music 'well' has very little to do with the kit used, and a lot to do with the player.

On the other hand, if you investigate different instruments yourself – and, of course, are a player worth listening to – you may discover worthwhile things about the music, especially if you get a chance to play with good musicians on other instruments.

By the way, I apologise for the appalling sound quality on the 'Mozart' video. It was done in a hurry, and in small room with a close and badly-placed mike. A proper recording would do a much better job of representing these instruments.

Tony

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 Re: using "period instruments" to play late 19th and early 20th century music
Author: ruben 
Date:   2019-06-15 18:07

I found your video most informative and let's not forget that this can be helpful for the layman and/or the amateur clarinetist too; even if he doesn't/ we don't and won't play these "historically informed" instruments, it is of benefit to know about them.

rubengreenbergparisfrance@gmail.com


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