Graham Nasby's Online Resources


The Constant Clarinet

The Clarinet and the Saxophone in Literature

and Works of Reference

Compiled by Michael Bryant

Clarionet. An instrument of torture operated by a person with cotton in his ears. There are two instruments worse than the clarionet - two clarionets.

Ambrose Bierce: 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!

Arnold Schonberg: 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 heroic love".

Hector Berlioz: 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 Swedish premiere.

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 was.

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 Josef Lada)

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 clarinet.

André Grétry: Memoirs.

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 Faustus (1947)

[The sound of the clarinet.] Leering cacherination.

Isaac Goldberg: Tin Pan Alley, 1930

Thomas Lindsay Willman (1784-1840)

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 artist.

Romain Rolland: John Christopher; Morning. 1910

William Blake (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 fauna.

Anthony Baines: Musical Instruments through the Ages. 1961

A Daguerrotype

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 invention.

Mrs Carlyle: in a letter (1842) to her husband, Thomas Carlyle

Brahms Clarinet 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.

George Bernard Shaw: Music in London Volume II 1890-1894

Thomas Willman

The long purply sound of the clarinet. That's the sound that has been haunting me ... the long awaited nightly thrill.

Luciano Berio: Recital I for Cathy. 1972

Debussy as bass clarinettist 1909

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.

Charles Dickens: 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 serpent.'

'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 little Jimmy.

'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.

'Miserable dumbledores!'

'Right, William, and so they be - miserable dumbledores!' said the choir with unanimity.

Thomas Hardy (1840-1928): 'Under the Greenwood Tree',1872.

Eiji Kitamura

The Chalumeau

It has a not very pleasing tone.

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

Samurai clarinettist in the style of Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861)

With grateful acknowledgement to Stephen Bennett

The Clarinet

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

A clarinet recital on the London Underground

[The D clarinet is] "...good for noisy music".

John Mahon

From Johann 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.

Clara 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 characteristics.

Findings of 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.

Eduard Hanslick: advising the virtuoso Romeo Orsi to join an orchestra, 1866

And then I heard the curious tone

Of cornet, clarinet and big trombone.

The Floral 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.'

Arnold Bennett: Tertius Ingpen in 'These Twain', 1916

The C clarinets are indispensable, urge you to get some. Transposition impossible.

Richard Strauss: to conductor Ernst von Schuch, before the first performance of 'Der Rosenkavalier'

Basset Horns

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 clarinet.

Johannes Brahms: 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: Kreisleriana 5

The basset horn expresses yearning, love, a blissful drifting into a spirit world, and a wistfulness to a degree impossible on any other instrument.

Gustav Schilling: 'Encyclopaedie der gesammten musikalischen Wissenschaft 1835

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.

Josef Froehlich: 'Vollstandige Theoretisch-praktisch Musiklehre', 1810


...And Further Down

Your pedal clarinet is my dream realised.

Camille Saint-Saens: on hearing Besson's newly invented instrument, 1890

The Clarinet

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.

Josef Skvorecky: 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 saxophone.

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 sound.

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 sound.

Josef Skvorecky, The Bass Saxophone 1963

My String Quartet should sound like a saxophone quartet

Maurice Ravel


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.

Walter Piston (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 entire output.]

Mozart, Stadler 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 Mozart's death.


Far more 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.

Otto Jahn (1813-1869): The Life of Mozart 1855, English translation 1891

Mozart's Clarinet Quintet

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?

The first 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 about it.

The 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).

William McNaught, editor of The Musical Times 1945

François Joseph Fé tis

François Joseph 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.

Kasper, the leading clarinettist in Alsace and his cousin, Margré del.

Illustrations 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.

J.-B. de 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 night.

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.

Progress, 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.

Lionel had 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 . . . .

Fanny Burney, Camilla, 1796

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 entertainments.

Thomas Hardy (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 the other.

Thomas Love 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 parted.

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?

George Bernard 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?

Johannes Brahms, letter to Clara Schumann, October 1891.

Hermstedt 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.

Louis Spohr, 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.

George Bernard 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!"

Alphonse Daudet, "Lettres de mon moulin ", 1866.

"You're not going whistling to sparrows with a clarinet like that!, he said, pointing to the gun.

Honore de 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.

This proudly passionate character belongs mainly to the B flat clarinet, which is the virtuoso instrument par excellence.

Prosper Mimart, 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 instrument.

Gustav Schilling "Encyclopaedie der gesammten musikalisches Wissenschaft, 1835.

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 orchestra.

Sir Arthur Bliss.

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 inexperience.

The Musical World, review of the first London performance of the Mozart Clarinet Concerto, played by Willman at a Philharmonic Concert

Mr. Willman's 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.

In Germany 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 Clinton.

George Bernard Shaw, review of a concert given by the "Manchester Orchestra" (the Halle), in "The World ", l0th. December 1890.

She was as simple as a clarinet counterpoint in a village band . . .

Josef Skvoracky, The Engineer of Souls, 1977

Flutes, too, are comparatively plentiful; whilst clarinet players are scarce . . . . .

George Bernard Shaw on amateur orchestras, in "The World ", 26th. Apnl 1893.

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 . . .

George Bernard 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!"

Richard Temple 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.

"There you are, that's how it goes."

"Oh, yes!" replied the disgruntled wind player, "1 can whistle the damn thing." Thomas Russell, Philharmonic, 1942.

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.

A compiler's library

First compiled 1999

Last edited 0600 10/7/04



Page first created om 1999 by Michale Bryant. Re-posted with permission.
Re-posted by Graham Nasby on January 8, 2015.