Clarinet and the Saxophone in Literature
Works of Reference
by Michael Bryant
instrument of torture operated by a person with cotton in his
ears. There are two instruments worse than the clarionet -
Devil's Dictionary 1911
One of the hazards
of playing the contra-bass clarinet
Among the winds only the
clarinet and the horn can be given a favourable prognosis on
the basis of their present state. The clarinet is the almost
as perfect as the violin, if not so versatile. It lacks only
a few intervals and a really good staccato. Clarinets in Eb
and D, but particularly in Ab will have a great future, as
soon as leading players begin to have more to do with them.
The bass clarinet, though rather weak in tone, is at least as
mobile as the bassoon and has a rather greater compass.
The lowest note on the Eb
clarinet is indeed the same as the violin, while the A
clarinet commands what should be possible on the Eb clarinet,
one can scarcely demand more of the Eb clarinet high up than
of the A clarinet! An incomprehensible state of affairs!
The more advanced, more
practised musician, at least, almost always has absolute
pitch, and he is really not going to believe that what he is
playing on the Eb clarinet is a B - he knows perfectly well
it is a D, because he can hear it!
Such a man is, in fact, forced
precisely by 'transposing instrument' (!) to transpose! But
that was what people wanted to avoid!
Style and Idea
"The clarinet, though
appropriate to the expression of the most poetic ideas and
sentiments, is really an epic instrument - the voice of
Grand traité d'instrumentation et d'orchestration modernes 1843
Nielsen's Clarinet Concerto:
"Absolutely the worst thing that this a trifle too
obvious an experimental and prevaricatingly sidestepping Dane
has yet put together is nevertheless a clarinet concerto
which was offered as a novelty and whose clucking, growling,
crying, weeping and grunting solo voice was played by Aage
Oxenvad. Nielsen hereby confesses himself a cacophonist. Not
knowing any better, he seeks to keep up with the
times....this clarinet concerto seems like a malicious
continuation of parodies of Beckmesser's serenade. Is he
joking? Stupid jokes are fashionable at the moment."
Olaf Wilhelm Peterson-Berger
(1867-1942): Dagens Nyheter, 6/12/1928 on the occasion of the
I was strong on the need (in
1888) for signed criticism written in the first person
instead of the journalist 'we'; but as I then had no name
worth signing, and GBS meant nothing to the public, I had to
invent a fantastic personality with something like a foreign
title. I thought of Count di Luna (from Il Travatore) but
finally changed it for Corno di Bassetto, as it sounded like
a foreign title, and nobody knew what a corno di bassetto
As a matter of fact the corno
di bassetto is not a foreigner with a title but a musical
instrument called in English the basset horn. It is a
wretched instrument, now completely snuffed out for general
use by the bass clarinet. It would be forgotten and unplayed
if it were not that Mozart has scored for it in his Requiem,
evidently because its peculiar watery meloncholy and the
total absence of any richness of passion in its tone is just
the thing for a funeral. Mendelssohn wrote some chamber music
for it , presumably to oblige somebody who played it; and it
is kept alive by these works and by our Mr Whall. If I had
ever heard a note of it in 1888 I would have selected it for
a character which I intended to be sparkling. The devil
himself could not make a basset horn sparkle.
George Bernard Shaw:
'Mid-Atlantic' magazine, Sunday 2 June 1935
A Czech band (after
The clarinet is suited to the
expression of sorrow, and even when it plays a merry air
there is a suggestion of sadness about it. If I were to dance
in prison, I should wish to do so to the accompaniment of a
The many-keyed clarinet, can
sound so ghostly in the deep chalumeau register but higher up
can glean in silvery blossoming harmony.
Thomas Mann: Doctor
[The sound of the clarinet.]
Isaac Goldberg: Tin
Pan Alley, 1930
Oh! If only we had clarinets?
You have no idea of the effect of clarinets!
Mozart: in a letter
from Mannheim to his father, 1777
An old German
banknote (20 DM)
He wrote a quintette for
clarinet and strings. The first movement was a poem of
youthful hope and desire: the last a lover's joke, in which
Christopher wild humour peeped out. But the whole work was
written for the sake of the second movement, the Larghetto,
in which Christopher had depicted an ardent and ingenuous
little soul, which was, or was meant to be a portrait of
Minna. No one would have recognised it, least of all herself;
and he had a thrill of pleasure. in the illusion of feeling
that he had caught the essence of his beloved. No work had
ever been so easily or happily written; it was an outlet for
the excess of love which the parting had stored up in him;
and at the same time his care for the work of art, the effort
necessary to dominate and concentrate his passion into a
beautiful and clear form, gave him a healthiness of mind, a
balance in his faculty, which gave him a sort of physical
delight - a sovereign enjoyment known to every creative
Romain Rolland: John
Christopher; Morning. 1910
(1757-1827): The frontispiece to 'Songs of Innocence and of
Experience' set to music by Arnold Cooke (for soprano,
clarinet and piano) and William Bolcom.
Duet for basset
hornists Hans Mossel and Hans Otter
'The first to play
a wrong note must jump from the balcony!'
Leblanc has made an
octocontrabass clarinet... three octaves lower than the
ordinary clarinet, including a low D, sounding C", a
sixth below the bottom note on the piano. The tone is full
and solid, though slightly suggestive of the larger Jurassic
Musical Instruments through the Ages. 1961
I went to church yesterday
afternoon, according to programme and saw and heard
"strange things, upon my honour" ... Reginald
ascended the pulpit in his white vestment, and , in a loud
sonorous, perfectly Church-of-England-like tone gave out the
Psalm, whereupon there arose, at the far end of the
mouldering church, a shrill clear sound, something between a
squeal of agony and the highest tone of a bagpipe! I looked
in astonishment, but could discover nothing: the congregation
joined in with the invisible thing, which continued to assert
its predominance, and it was not until the end of the service
that Hesketh informed me that the strange instrument was
"a clarionet"! Necessity is the mother of
Mrs Carlyle: in a
letter (1842) to her husband, Thomas Carlyle
Quintet, 11 May 1892
Only the other day I remarked
that I was sure to come Brahms' new clarionet quintet sooner
or later. And, sure enough my fate overtook me last week at
Mr G. Clinton's Wind Concert at the Steinway Hall. I shall
not attempt to describe this latest exploit on the Leviathan
Maunderer. It surpasses my utmost expectations: I never heard
such a work in my life. Brahms' enormous gift for music is
parallelled by nothing on earth but Mr Gladstone's gift for
words: it is verbosity which outfaces its own commonplaceness
by dint of sheer magnitude. The first movement of the quintet
is the best; and had the string players been on sufficiently
easy with terms with it, they might have softened it and
given effect to its occasional sentimental excursions into
dreamland. Unluckily they were all preoccupied with the
difficulty of keeping together; and they were led by a
violinist whose bold, free, slashing style, though useful in
a general way, does more harm than good when the strings need
to be touched with great tenderness and sensitiveness.
Mr Clinton's played the
clarionet part with scrupulous care, but without giving any
clue to his private view of the work, which, though it shews
off the compass and contrasts the registers of the instrument
in the usual way, contains none of the haunting phrases which
Weber, for instance, was able to find for the expression of
its idiosyncrasy. The Presto of the third movement is a
ridiculously dismal version of a lately popular hornpipe. I
first heard it at the pantomime which was produced at Her
Majesty's Theatre a few years ago; and I have supposed it to
be a composition of Mr Solomon's. Anyhow, the street-piano
went through an epidemic of it; and it certainly deserved a
merrier fate than burying alive in a Brahms quintet.
Shaw: Music in London Volume II 1890-1894
The long purply sound of the
clarinet. That's the sound that has been haunting me ... the
long awaited nightly thrill.
Recital I for Cathy. 1972
Debussy as bass
The origin of the clarinet is
unknown. It has been found in primitive civilizations, but
only in recent layers, and the question of whether it
migrated from a lower to a higher civilisation, or from a
higher to a lower one, is not yet decided.
Curt Sachs: The
History of Musical Instruments 1940
Portrait of an
unknown player by Johannes Reekers, 1813.
He had been in that place six
nights a week for many years, but had never been observed to
raise an eye above his music-book... The carpenters had joked
that he was dead without being aware of it... He never on any
occasion had any other part in what was going on than the
part written out for the clarionet; in private life
where there was no part for the clarionet, he had no part at
all... When they arrived there, they found the old man, in
the corner of the room... All this time the uncle was doleful
blowing his clarinet in the corner, sometimes taking it an
inch or so from his mouth for a moment while he stopped to
gaze at them, with vague a impression that somebody had said
something... The clarionet had been lamenting most
pathetically during this dialogue, but was cut short now by
Fanny's announcement that it was time to go; which she
conveyed to her uncle by shutting up his scrap of music, and
taking the clarionet out of his mouth... At
breakfast, Mr Frederick Dorrit likewise appeared. As the old
gentleman inhabited the highest story of the palace, where he
might have practised pistol shooting without chance of
discovery by other inmates, his younger niece had taken
courage to propose the restoration to him of his clarionet:
which Mr Dorrit had ordered to be confiscated, but which she
had ventured to preserve. Not withstanding some objections
from Miss Fanny, that it was a low instrument, and that she
detested the sound of it, concession had been made.
Little Dorrit 1857
'...I think we must be almost
the last left in the country of old string players? Barrel
organs, and the things next door to 'em that you blow wi'
your foot, have come in terribly of late years.
'Ay!' said Bowman shaking his
head; and the old William on seeing him did the same thing.
'More's the pity,' replied
another. 'time was - long and merry ago now! - when not one
of the varmits was to be heard of; but it served some of the
quires right. They should have stuck to strings as we did,
and kept out clarinets, and done away with serpents. If you'd
thrive in musical religion, stick to strings, say I.
'Strings be safe soul-lifters,
as far as that do go,' said Mr Spinks.
'Yet there's worse things than
serpents,' said Mr Penny, 'Old things pass away, 'tis true;
but a serpent was a good old note: a deep rich note was the
'Clar'nets, however be bad at
all times,' said Michael Mail. 'One Christmas - years agone
now, years - I went the rounds wi' the Weatherbury quire.
'Twas a hard frosty night, and the keys of all the clar'nets
froze - ah, they did freeze! - so that 'twas like drawing a
cork every time a key was opened; and the players o' 'em had
to go into the hedger-and-ditcher's chimley-corner, and thaw
their clar'nets every now and then. An icicle o'spet hung
down from the end of every man's clar'net a span long; and as
to fingers - well, there, if ye'll believe me, we had no
fingers at all, to our knowing.'
'I can well bring back to my
mind,' said Mr Penny, 'what I said to poor Joseph Ryme (who
took the treble part in Chalk-Newton Church for two-
and-forty year) when they thought of having clar'nets there.
"Joseph I said says I, "depend upon't, if so be you
have them tooting clar'nets you'll spoil the whole set-out.
Car'nets were not made for the service of the Lard; you can
see it by looking at 'em," I said. And what came o't?
Why, souls, the parson set up a barrel-organ on his own
account within two years o' the time I spoke, and the old
quire went to nothing.'
'As far as look is concerned,'
said the tranter, 'I don't for my part see that a fiddle is
much nearer heaven that a clar'net. 'Tis further off. There's
always a rakish, scampish twist about a fiddle's look that
seems to say the the Wicked One had a hand in its making
o'en; while angels be supposed to play clar'nets in heaven,
or som'at like 'em if ye may believe picters.'
'Robert Penny, you was in the
right,' broke in the eldest Dewy. They should ha' stuck to
strings. Your brass-man is a rafting dog - well and good;
your reed-man is a dab at stirring ye - well and good; your
drum-man is a rare bowel-shaker - good again. But I don't
care who hears me say it, nothing will speak to your heart
heart wi' the sweetness o' the man of the strings!'
'Strings for ever!' said
'Strings alone would have held
their ground against all the new comers in creation.' ('True,
true!' said Bowman.) 'But Clarinets was death.' (Death they
was!' said Mr Penny.) 'And harmoniums,' William continued in
a louder voice, and getting excited by these sighs of
approval, 'harmonions and barrel-organs' ('Ah!' and groans
from Spinks) 'be miserable - what shall I call 'em? -
miserable - .'
'Sinners,' suggested Jimmy,
who made large strides like the men and did not lag behind
with the other little boys.
'Right, William, and so they
be - miserable dumbledores!' said the choir with unanimity.
(1840-1928): 'Under the Greenwood Tree',1872.
It has a not very pleasing
J B de Laborde:
Essai sur la musique, Paris 1780
A clarinet for
a mounted player - designed for the left hand only
The so-called chalumeaux may
be allowed to voice their somewhat howling symphony of an
evening, perhaps in June or July and from a distance, but
never in January at a serenade on the water.
J Mattheson: Das
neu-eroeffnete Orchestra, 1713
clarinettist in the style of Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861)
acknowledgement to Stephen Bennett
From a distance it sounds
rather like a trumpet.
J G Walther:
Musicalisches Lexicon, 1732
The strident and piercing
sound of this instrument [the clarinet] is most useful in the
military music of the infantry; and it sounds much better
from afar than close to.
J E Altenburg:
Versuch einer Anleitung zur heroisch-musikalischen
Trompeter-und Pauker-Kunst, 1795
recital on the London Underground
[The D clarinet is]
"...good for noisy music".
Christian Weigl's Musicalisches Threatrum (circa 1720)
Yesterday I at last heard
Johannes' clarinet quintet at the rehearsal. It is a really
marvellous work, the wailing clarinet takes hold of one.
Schumann: Diaries, 17/3/1893
Clarinets of different sizes
produces different character of sound; thus the C clarinet
has a brilliant and lively tone ; the Bb clarinet is suited
to the noble or meloncholy type of music, the A clarinet is
more pastoral in character. Undoubtedly Mr Muller's new
clarinet, if it were universally adopted, would deprive
composers of the opportunity to make use of these distinct
the Special Committee, Paris Conservatoire 1812.
The times are passed when
crowds of these artists came from everywhere to perform on
their boring little pipes.
Hanslick: advising the virtuoso Romeo Orsi to join an
And then I heard the curious
Of cornet, clarinet and big
Dance, (19th century words to a traditional Cornish dance).
'But my real instrument is the
clarinet. ... It seems odd', he went on with genuine
unegotistic interest in himself, 'but d'you know, I
thoroughly enjoy playing the clarinet in a bad orchestra
whenever I get the chance. When I happen to have a free
evening I often wish I could drop in at a theatre and play
rotten music in the band. It's better than nothing. Some of
us are born mad.'
Bennett: Tertius Ingpen in 'These Twain', 1916
The C clarinets are
indispensable, urge you to get some. Transposition
to conductor Ernst von Schuch, before the first performance
of 'Der Rosenkavalier'
I think no instrument adapts
itself so closely to the human voice as the basset horn,
whose tone is almost midway between a cello (bassoon) and a
to Clara Schumann, 25/11/1855, after a performance of of
Vitellia's Rondo from 'Titus'.
The sound of the basset horn
reminds one of the scent of a red carnation.
E T A Hoffman:
The basset horn expresses
yearning, love, a blissful drifting into a spirit world, and
a wistfulness to a degree impossible on any other instrument.
Schilling: 'Encyclopaedie der gesammten musikalischen
The mellow tone, so
heart-rending and soft, the extensive low register which is
majestic on a good instrument and which approaches the
richness of the horn and the elegance of the bassoon, the
lovely melting middle register - all these are ideally suited
to the expression of gentle dignity.
'Vollstandige Theoretisch-praktisch Musiklehre', 1810
...And Further Down
Your pedal clarinet is my
Saint-Saens: on hearing Besson's newly invented instrument,
Commonly abbreviation on
clarinet parts. When a concert was advertised on a poster as
conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham, Bart., some wag annotated
the soloists name to Reginald Kell, Clart.
I got up and unscrewed the top
of the saxophone. Then I tipped it over on one side where
there aren't any keys on the bottom and poured the puddle out
on the floor. I put in the mop and twirled the tenor
elegantly in my hand. The weight dropped out through the
narrow end and I had a good feeling as I slowly pulled the
mop up through the saxophone. Then I put it into the case,
took the head, pulled out the mouthpiece and cleaned it with
a wire. I unscrewed the reed, dried it, and wiped off the
bakelite mouthpiece. Then I put everything into the case,
locked it,and put on my coat. Everybody else was ready. There
was always more work with a saxophone.
The Cowards 1958
And I was at an age when one
doesn't think of death. I approached the bass saxophone
again. The main part of the body lay to the left, deep in a
plush bed. Next to it lay the other sections:the long metal
pipe with the huge keys for the the deepest tone, the bent
lever and the little leather-covered plate on the octave
key,the conical end with the big mouthpiece.
They attracted me the way the
requisites for mass attracted a novice. I leaned over and
lifted the body out of its plush bed. Then the second part; I
put them together, I embraced the body with gentle fingers,
the familiar fingering, my little finger on the ribbed G
flat, the keys of the bass thundered deep down under the
fingers of my right hand; I wiggled my fingers; the mechanism
rattled pleasantly; I pressed down key after key, from B to C
and then B flat to B with my little finger, and in the
immense hollow spaces of the bass saxophone the bubbling echo
of the tiny leather strokes sounded, descending the scale,
like the tiny footsteps of a minute priest in a metal
sanctuary, or the drumming of a little drum in metal frames,
a mysteries telegram on tiny tom-toms; I could not resist, I
reached for the mouthpiece, attached it, and opened the plush
lid of the little compartment in the corner of the coffin;
there they were, a bundle of big reeds, like the shovels
bakers use to take bread out of the oven; I secured one of
the reed in the ligature, straightened the edge, and putting
the mouthpiece in my mouth, moistened the reed. I did not
play. I just stood there with my mouthpiece in my mouth, my
fingers spread and embracing the immense body of the
saxophone, my eyes mist; I pressed the big keys. A bass
I had never held one in my
hands before; I felt as if I were embracing a mistress. I
stood there, a little slumped, and saw myself in the mirror
of the dressing table, hunched over the bass saxophone
resting the bend of its corpus on the carpet, immense in a
sea of shimmering particles, the unreal light of a grotesque
myth, like the genre-painting through certainly no such
painting exists: Young man with Bass Saxophone. Yes, Young
man with Guitar, Young Man with Pipe, Young Man with Jug,
yes, young man with anything at at all but not with a bass
saxophone on worn carpet, young man in golden haze of
afternoon sun penetrating muslim curtains, with a mute bass
saxophone, the Disney-rococo of the wardrobe in the
background, and the man with his chin sticking up out of the
pillow of the corpse. Just a young man with a bass saxophone
and sleeping man. Absurd. You knew that was the way it was.
I exhaled lightly. A little
harder. I felt the reed quiver. I blew into the mouthpiece,
running my fingers down the keys; what emerged from the bell
like a washbasin was a cruel, beautiful, infinitely sad
Maybe that's the way dying
brachiosaurs wailed. The sound filled the biege chamber with
a muted desolation. A fuzzy, hybrid tone, an acoustical alloy
of some non-existent bass cello and bass oboe, but more
explosive; a nerve- shattering bellow, the voice of a
meloncholy gorilla; just that one sorrowful tone, sad, like a
bell - traurig wie eine Glocke; just that one single
The Bass Saxophone 1963
My String Quartet should sound
like a saxophone quartet
Modern developments in
saxophone playing have completely changed the nature and
sound of the instrument from what it was when melodies were
assigned to it by Bizet and other European composers before
1920. From a pure, steady tone, its tone has become,
coincident with its ascendency in the field of popular dance
music, tremulous, oversweet, sentimental; and it is almost
invariably played out of tune. The saxophone as played today
cannot be used successfully in instrumental combinations.
(1894-1976) : Orchestration, eighth edition 1979.
[During the war
(1939-1946) Walter Piston was a musician (second class) in
the United States Navy. He was heard to remark that his rank
accurately described his handling of his instrument - the
saxophone, an instrument for which he wrote nothing in his
and the Clarinet
When he was in a
position to give help, he could not see any one in want
without offering relief, even though it entailed future
difficulties on himself and his family; repeated experiences
made him no more prudent in this respect. That he was often
imposed upon there can be no doubt. Whoever came to him at
meal-time was his guest, all the more welcome if he could
make or understand a joke, and Mozart was happy if only his
guests enjoyed their fare. Among them were doubtless, as
Sophie Haibl relates, " false friends, secret
blood-suckers, and worthless people, who served only to amuse
him at table, and intercourse with whom injured his
reputation. " One of the worst of this set was Albert
[sic] Stadler, who may serve as an example of the way in
which Mozart was sometimes treated. He was an excellent
clarinet-player, and a Freemason ; he was full of jokes and
nonsense, and contrived so to ingratiate himself with Mozart
that the latter constantly invited him to his house and
composed many things for him. Once, having learnt that Mozart
had just received fifty ducats, he represented himself as
undone if he could not succeed in borrowing that very sum.
Mozart, who wanted the money himself, gave him two valuable
repeater watches to put in pawn upon condition that he should
bring him the tickets and redeem them in due time ; as he did
not do this, Mozart gave him fifty ducats, besides the
interest, in order not to lose his watches. Stadler kept the
money, and allowed the watches to remain at the pawnbroker's.
Nowise profiting by this experience, Mozart, on his return
from Frankfort, in I790, commissioned Stadler to redeem from
pawn a portion of the silver plate which had been pledged for
the expenses of the journey and to renew the agreement for
the remainder. In spite of a very strong suspicion that
Stadler had purloined this pawn-ticket from Mozart's open
cashbox, the latter was not deterred from assisting him in
the following year towards a professional tour, both with
money and recommendations, in Prague, and from presenting him
with a concerto (622 K.), composed only a few months before
important [than the Mozart's works for horn] both as to
compass and substance is the concerto for clarinet in A major
(622 K.), which Mozart wrote or adapted for Stadler, towards
the close of his life (between September 28 and November I5,
I79I). There exist six pages of a draft score of the first
movement, composed much earlier for the basset-horn, in G
major, and available for the clarinet with a few alterations
in the deeper notes. It has not been ascertained whether this
concerto was ever finished, but it is scarcely probable.
It was to be
expected that Mozart, who was the first to do justice to the
capabilities of the clarinet as a solo instrument, would deal
with it with peculiar partiality; the more so as he had so
distinguished a performer to work for. The brilliant
qualities of this splendid instrument are in point of fact
thrown into the strongest relief. The contrasts of
tone-colouring are made use of in every sort of way,
especially in the low notes, here much employed in the
accompaniment passages, whose wonderful effect Mozart was, as
far as I know, the first to discover.
The capacity of
the clarinet for melodious expression, tunefulness, and
brilliant fluency, and for the union of force with melting
tenderness, is skilfully taken into account; and as Mozart
invariably brings the external into harmony with, the
internal, we find in this work that the grander and broader
forms and the greater execution are the natural outcome of
brilliant and original ideas. It is not too much to say that
this concerto is the basis of modern clarinet-playing. Mozart
composed on September 29, I789, for the same fickle friend,
the " Stadlersquintett ' for clarinet and strings (582
K. [sic]), which was first performed at the concert for the
Musicians' Charitable Fund on December 22, I789.
The distinct and
frequently overpowering effect of the clarinet, in
conjunction with stringed instruments, would necessitate its
treatment as a solo instrument; and Mozart's loving efforts
to display to the full its singular beauties and rich powers
serve to isolate it still more completely. Although he avoids
with equal taste and skill the danger of treating the
stringed instruments as mere accompaniment, or of emphasising
the clarinet unduly, and combines them to a whole often with
touches of surprising delicacy, yet the heterogeneous
elements are not so completely incorporated as are the
stringed instruments when they are alone. The whole mechanism
is therefore loose and easy, the subjects are more graceful
than important, and their development less serious and
profound than usual. This quintet. ' therefore, cast as it is
in the most beautiful forms, and possessed of the most
charming sound effects - fully justifying, the praise
bestowed upon it by Ambros (" Limits of Music' and
Poetry ") in Goethe's words, " its whole being
floats in sensuous wealth and sweetness" - yet falls
below the high level of the stringed quintets.
(1813-1869): The Life of Mozart 1855, English translation
Ready as I am to
be put down as a Mozart addict, I cannot join in the chorus
of praise that echoes round this work. An example resounds
from the editorial chapter by Rudolf Gerber, in the Eulenberg
Edition. The writer refers to the 'unparalleled
melodiousness' and 'transcendent beauty and sublimity' of the
quintet. 'The senses and the soul have entered a synthesis
which is sensed' (he sonorously sibilates) 'by the listener
in the noble and tranquil curves of the development as well
as in the individual thematic inventions.' Moreover 'The
soulful sensuousness of the first movement swells into a
supernatural chant' etc. (Please excuse this sacrifice of
space in a season of scarcity). In short, he considers it a
good work. Shall we have a look at it?
movement is everything that perfection could be as far as the
double bar. Then something flies out of the window. The
development section is surely one of the driest that Mozart
wrote in any important work - and after such an opening!
First the chief tune, originally in A is played in C, the
modulation being beautifully done. Then the strings take up
the clarinet's first entry, an arpeggio figure, and
relentlessly plug it from key to key in the dullest fashion
for thirteen two-bar phrases. Presently the clarinet says,
'well, if that's all you can think of, I may as well be in
it'; so it hops up and down the ladder six times. And that's
the development section; you would have to look a long way to
find another with so little Mozart in it. The passage comes
to rest on the dominant of A, ready for the lead into the
first subject. This is where we expect Mozart to be at his
cleverest and wittiest. Instead of which he just does nothing
recapitulation shows that unstrained and natural variation on
the first statement which we expect of Mozart's
craftsmanship, and there is a lovely bit of coda. Altogether
a high-grade Mozartian movement but for that large blot in
the middle. The Larghetto has a tune twenty bars long: isn't
it rather ordinary, and does the movement rise from the plane
of smooth, elegant Mozartian commonplace? Have a look at the
slow movements in the new edition of the string quartets and
judge whether the Larghetto is not eclipsed by all of them.
Try also the Minuets, and see whether the one in the Clarinet
Quintet is in the same street. The finale Variations: Mozart
seldom put down a more trivial tune; and listen to the first
side (Columbia DX 1187-90) and tell me where in Mozart's
hundred best works you will hear such tonic-and-dominant, and
so much repetition (apart from the repetitions dutifully made
by the players). Many of Mozart's variation movements are not
repetitions in effect; this one is very much so.
In sum - the sum,
that is, of one personal opinion - the quintet is grade A in
the essential parts of the first movement, grade B elsewhere,
perhaps grade C in some of the finale. (These grades are
entirely within the field of Mozart's music; if one finds
abundant virtues in the finale, as one must, it is because
Mozart's grade C covers them). The quintet is, of course,
beautifully written for the partnership of strings and
clarinet. There are no off-days for Mozart the stylist. But
if the music of the work is to employ our superlatives, what
language can we use for the string quartets, the best-known
string quintets, the oboe quartet, the divertimento for
string trio and other works of like quality and inspiration?
The quintet is played beautifully in every way by Reginald
Kell and the Philharmonia Quartet (Columbia DX 1187-1190).
editor of The Musical Times 1945
Fé tis (1784-1871) Brilliantly articulate Belgian scholar,
musicologist, journalist, editor, publisher, book collector and
dealer, teacher and composer. His Biographie universelle des
musiciens et bibliographe gé né rale de la musique was a
tremendous scholarly achievement. At the time it set a new
standard in the scope of biographical research in music. However,
errors and chronological mistakes abound, while many of his
personal opinions are open to question. The first edition
(1835-44) is especially defective. The second edition (1866-70,
reprinted Brussels, Culture et Civilisation 1963) in eight
volumes and the Pougin's Supplé ment et complé ment (1878-1880)
in two further volumes is more complete and more satisfactory.
Entertaining, compellingly witty and brilliant at its best, it
provides a useful starting point from which to explore the byways
of 19th century music. In some cases it provides the only
available contemporary commentary, but even so, should be
consulted with discretion, since there are many ludricrous errors
of fact. Of special interest to clarinettist are the twelve
pages, a veritable panegyric, devoted to Adolphe Sax.
leading clarinettist in Alsace and his cousin, Margré del.
from a romantic short story by É mile Erckmann (1822-99) and
Alexandre Chatrian (1826-90) entitled Confidences d'un
joueur de clarinette (1867). Charles Koechlin provided
music Opus 141 (1934), for clarinet, horn and other
instruments, in eighteen sections for a film on this subject
that was never made.
An account of the
plot can be found in Robert Orledge's book Charles
Koechlin, Harwood Academic Press, 1989, pages 168-71.
On the Chalumeau:
It has a not very pleasing tone.
Laborde, Essai sur la musique, Paris, 1780
A great favourite
with the old church musicians was the clarionet . . . . . of
beautiful tone when well-played, but capable of dreadful
screeches in the hands of an indifferent performer. Probably
the choirboys of former days enjoyed this instrument with
mischievous glee when badly played, though it was sometimes
used with direful effects from their correction. An old
choirmaster at Bosham, known throughout the parish in late
years as "Grandsire" Arnold, joined the singers at
the age of ten years (in 1830) and his seat in the gallery
was near the clarinet player. If young Arnold stopped singing
for a moment, the bandsman would thrust the bell of his
clarinet into the lad's ear and blow a shrill and mighty
blast to urge him to renewed effort.
Canon K. H.
MacDermot, The Old Church Gallery Musicians, 1948.
The clarionet was
one of the instruments which that famous old Mid-Sussex
musicianer;' John Pennicott played . . . . . . [He] lived for
forty years in one house in Amberley. He was bandmaster of
the church. . . . . . . . . . on one occasion through some
misunderstanding with the Vicar, the bandsmen, although they
attended the Church, refused to play, and the Vicar, who was
between 80 and 90 years old, asked from the pulpit, "Are
you going to play or not?" Pennicott answered for
himself and his bandsmen, "No!" To which the Parson
repined, "Well then I'm not going to preach;' and
forthwith came down out of the pulpit. Later, after the
service was over and the Parson walked down the village
street, the band came out with their instruments and gave him
'horn-fair' or 'rough music' to the Vicarage. On another
occasion, the same band went on strike. As they would not
play at the service of the Church, the Vicar called upon all
the inns in the village, and was successful in 'freezing the
taps' - that is, the landlords agreed not to serve any of the
band with liquor. The bandsmen retorted by whitewashing the
Vicar s windows from top to bottom of the house during the
Canon K. H.
MacDermott, Sussex Church Music in the Past, 1922.
The voice of the
Swan, singly, is shrill, piercing and harsh, not unlike the
sound of a clarionet when blown by a novice in music.Thomas
Bewick, History of British Birds, 1809.
apparently, was not regarded as synonymous with improvement,
and technical benefits usually produced as much depression as
pleasure in the short-term.
As I was writing
this article, a musician passed through Berlin with a six
keyed clarinet on which he was able to perform in every key.
Everyone knows the difficulties caused by four keys; with six
it must be even worse.
L'Art du faiseur
d'instruments de musique, Diderot & D'Alembert's
"Encyclopedie ", 175I-80.
descried him upon the little hill before the house; where, as
he was passing on, his attention had been caught by the sound
of horn and clarinets . . . . French horns and clarinets were
played during the repast . . . .
Whilst he was yet
in the forecourt he could hear the rhythm of French horns and
clarionets, the favourite instruments of those days at such
(1840-1928), Barbara of the House of Grebe
After a time, the
ladies, and all the females of the party, retired. The males
remained on duty with punch and wassail, and dropped off one
by one into sweet forgetfulness; so that when the rising sun
of December looked through the painted windows on mouldering
embers and flickering lamps, the vaulted roof was echoing to
a mellifluous concert of noses, from the clarionet of the
waiting- boy at one end of the hall, to the double bass of
the Reverend Doctor, ringing over the empty punch-bowl, at
Peacock, Crotchet Castle, 1831.
But the clarinet
was the difficulty. It was, they all said, a universally
admitted fact, familiar alike to the musician and the
physicist, that the pitch of a clarinet is an unalterable and
eternal natural phenomenon. And the more the poor conductor
struck his "diapason normal" tuning-fork at the
beginning of the first rehearsal, the more the clarinettist
(there was but one) blew a melancholy response nearly half a
tone sharp to it. So the conductor sighed; and the rehearsal
went forward at Philharmonic pitch. That evening the
conductor privately interviewed the clarinettist. He
suggested that if the instrument could be altered (for the
occasion only) at a cost of, say, a guinea, he would
willingly place that sum in the artist's hands for the
purpose. A pause ensued, during which the clarinettist
steadfastly and solemnly contemplated the conductor, and the
conductor, with equal gravity, contemplated the clarinettist
back again. Then the guinea changed hands; and the twain
At the second
rehearsal the conductor took out his fork as before, and,
disregarding an impatient groan from the band, sweetly said
"Do you think, Mr. Blank, that if you were to insert a
washer in that clarinet, you could get down to my fork?"
At this apparently naive suggestion the band could hardly
refrain from open derision. Laughter, and cries of "Yes,
Joe; try the washer," lasted until Mr. Blank, after a
brief manipulation of his instrument, responded to the fork
with an A dead in unison with it. . . . . . . . . But will
someone kindly explain . . . . . . Why, in short, the alleged
impossibilities are so often got over when it becomes
apparent that they must be got over?
Shaw, in "The World, l8th. November, 1891.
Mü hlfeld will be
sending you his tuning-fork, so that the grand piano with
which he is to play may be tuned to it. His clarinet only
allows him to yield very little to other instruments. in case
your piano differs very much in pitch and you do not wish to
use it for this purpose, perhaps Marie will sacrifice herself
and allow her grand piano to be tuned to Muhlfeld's fork?
letter to Clara Schumann, October 1891.
followed with a difficult composition of mine. He, who always
when appearing in public went to work with the utmost nervous
precision in everything, emboldened now to rashness buy the
fumes of the champagne, had screwed on a new and untried reed
to the mouthpiece of his instrument and even spoke vauntingly
of it to me as I mounted the platform of the orchestra. I
immediately anticipated no good from it. The solo of my
composition began with a long sustained note which Hermstedt
pitched almost inaudibly and by degrees increased to an
enormous power, with which he always produced a great
sensation. This time he began in the usual way and the public
listened to the increasing volume of tone with rapt
expectancy. But just as he was about to increase it to the
highest power, the reed buckled and gave out a mis-tone, like
the shrill cry of a goose. The audience laughed and the now
suddenly sobered virtuoso turned deathly pale with horror. He
nevertheless soon recovered himself, and executed the
remainder with his usual brilliancy.
Autobiography, English translation 1865.
And yet the
clarinet players had cut their reeds as only street players
cut them in England; the brass lacked finess and dignity; and
the quality of tone was in no department equal to what is to
be had for the asking in London, if only anyone will take the
trouble to ask for it.
Shaw, reviewing a performance of "Die Freischutz"
in "The World ", l3th. August I890.
With his head
bent towards his shoulder and his cane held to his teeth like
a clarinet . . . "Have pity on a blind man!"
"Lettres de mon moulin ", 1866.
going whistling to sparrows with a clarinet like that!, he
said, pointing to the gun.
Balzac, "Les Chouans ".
If massed brass
instruments in military bands evoke the idea of a troop of
warriors covered in glittering armour, the voice of clarinets
heard at the same time seems to represent their beloved ones
exalted by the clash of arms.
passionate character belongs mainly to the B flat clarinet,
which is the virtuoso instrument par excellence.
article on the clarinet in the "Encyclopadie de Musique
et Dictionnaire du Conservatoire ", 1925.
The basset horn
expresses yearning, love, a blissful drifting into a spirit
world, and a wistfulness to a degree impossible on any other
"Encyclopaedie der gesammten musikalisches Wissenschaft,
Just as [Mozart]
exalted the role of the viola . . . . so did he exploit to
the full the possibilities of the new clarinet, writing many
solo and ensemble pieces for it . Since that time it has
become the most important wood-wind instrument in the
The novelty . . .
. . was the concerto said to be by Mozart, and proceeding
from the laboratory of M. André , of Offenbach, who, like M.
Fétis with the compositions of Beethoven, has proved himself
an industrious stepfather to the posthumous compositions of
Mozart . . . . . The first movement is "the music of the
peruke"; in its terse and sententious phrases we
discover the wig-tailed maestro of the last century; but
there is nothing which M. Andre could not have written
himself . . . . The finale of the present concerto is
ecidedly vulgar, and as far as a single hearing may be
depended on, affords evident traces of haste and
World, review of the first London performance of the Mozart
Clarinet Concerto, played by Willman at a Philharmonic
tone, execution, feeling, and expression, were perfectly
satisfactory. We never expect to hear them surpassed - and we
can very contentedly wait for that event. His power too in
sustaining his breath is very extraordinary. We were much
pleased to note the numerous attendance at the benefit of one
of the most deserving favourites of the profession.\par
Review in the Musical World, 6th. April 1836.
clarinet players use reed which give a more strident,
powerful, appealing tone than in England; and the result is
that certain passages (in the Freischutz, for example) come
out with a passion and urgency that surprise the tourist who
has only heard them played here by Egerton, Lazarus, or
Shaw, review of a concert given by the "Manchester
Orchestra" (the Halle), in "The World ", l0th.
She was as simple
as a clarinet counterpoint in a village band . . .
The Engineer of Souls, 1977
Flutes, too, are
comparatively plentiful; whilst clarinet players are scarce .
. . . .
Shaw on amateur orchestras, in "The World ", 26th.
I have never
heard an orchestra more completely thrown away . . . . In the
march from Le Prophete, played as the Court withdrew, not a
note of the section where the theme is taken up by the
trumpet and bass clarinet reached me . . .
Shaw, in "The World ", l7th. May 1893.
Fritz Reiner came
for 'Rosenkavalier', 'Parsifal' and 'Tristan'.
He was very professional and gifted with a prodigious memory.
In "Parsifal", the second and third clarinets have
a few bars solo and on one occasion Frank Hughes, the third
clarinet, missed two of them. A year or two later, the LPO
was entertaining the Berlin Philharmonic at the Savoy and
players were passing up their menus to be signed by
Furtwangler, Beecham and Reiner. Frank Hughes was much
surprised to get his back from Reiner with the addenda
"You owe me two bars!"
Savage, A Voice from the Pit, 1988.
There is the
story of the difflcult solo in Rimsky-Korsakov's "Coq
d'Or". At the rehearsal the first clarinet player, who
was unfamiliar with the work, slipped up rather badly. As he
left the rehearsal he passed the conductor, who gently
whistled the offending passage to him.
are, that's how it goes."
yes!" replied the disgruntled wind player, "1 can
whistle the damn thing." Thomas Russell, Philharmonic,
The behaviour of
the occupiers of the seats in the minstrels' galleries very
often indeed lacked that seemliness which one expects in a
place of worship, and the voices of the players were
frequently uplifted in speech that was neither prayer nor
praise . . . . . . . One hot summei s day at Bosham, the
leading clarionet player, warm and sleepy, left out many
notes and runs of the music and after a flagging attempt to
keep up with the other bandsmen, he laid down his instrument
and began mopping his heated brow with a big red
handkerchief. The flute-player nudgecl him and whispered
"Play up, will ye!" To which the clarionetist all
but shouted a reply that was well heard by all the
congregation: "I can't play no more, I do sweats that
bad I can't see!"
Canon K. H.
MacDermott, Sussex Church Music in the Past, I922.
First compiled 1999
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