Double Lip Embouchure

April 19, 2004

Hello, sir. My name is Niral Patel, and I am a clarinetist in 9th grade that goes to HH Dow High School in Midland Michigan. I am in the concert band there, and I hope to make it into the Symphonic Band before the year is up.

I have a question for you, sir. All of my teachers have been telling me that I have much skill, but they would like me to change my embouchure. I have learned the way that i play now, on a double Lip embouchure. I am not really sure, however, if I should conform to what they would like me to do. Is it true that you can achieve a better tone with a single lip embouchre, or is it only personal preference? They tell me that my tone would not change much, but they would prefer it – is there any reason that this would be the case?

Thanks for your time!

Niral M. Patel

Hello Niral

While I have written on this subject in prior years, the importance is certainly worth another response, allbeit of the same nature.

Simply put, the so-called double lip embouchure is the most natural and successful way of playing the clarinet. The finest players in history have all used double lip, for instance Ralph Maclean (Phliadelphia Orchestra) Harold Wright (Boston Symphony), and Gino Cioffi (Boston Symphony) have all used it with great success. It is the most natural way of playing the clarinet and actully the easiest.

I feel that your teachers are either not clarinetists or never were exposed to this way of playing if in fact they are clarinetists. Your sound will suffer if you switch to single lip. They feel most probably, but incorrectly that perhaps you will have more control of intonation, or more directly they simply do not know the embouchure.

I myself always used both types when playing for I found the double lip to be a most excellent way of playing, therapeutic, for you cannot “bite” or bang on the keys with your fingers and the legato is worlds better with this embouchure.

In any event, that is my opinion and I have been a clarinetist for more than 50 years.

So, keep up the good work, for you are on the right track.

Sincerely, SF


Brahms Sonata in Eb for Clarinet and Piano, Opus 120, #2

April 16, 2004

I have always taken a special meaning for the place in the chamber music by Brahms for this work, the Eb Sonata #2, for it is the last chamber music of his career, and my belief that this fact was very much on his mind during the composition, and, that in a way, it is a kind of farewell to this idiom.Again one must caution the clarinetist concerning the choice of and treatment of the accompanist, the part being in a way even more difficult than that of the F minor sonata. In the final movement of this sonata there are several sections in which the piano is given parts much more difficult and indeed prominent than the clarinetist. In fact in this movement, a series of variations, the pianist is to the fore, that is to say “en dehors” for most of the last several minutes of the work.”Allegro amabile”Tempi are again a concern and again Brahms is unique in his tempo directions, for instance the first movement is marked Allegro, but there is the added amabile. An amiable allegro? Perhaps, but when we really think about these descriptives we are more concerned finally with the “restraint” that amabile gives to the thrust of the Allegro.The first movement begins quietly with the clarinet playing immediately the first theme at piano, with simple and quiet accompaniment which comes to a partial close with the first “clarinetistical” problem, the execution of the quintuplet at the end of bar 10. The question always remains with the clarinet as to how to execute these 5 notes. Unfortunately, they are almost always performed incorrectly, usually too rapidly and completely losing the tranquility of the previous measures. One need to remember that five notes played in the space of 4 is only a small amount faster, to be specific, 5% faster. Not much at all. The problem is easily solved by having the clarinetist plays these 5 notes placidly, in dimuendo (as marked) and in the same manner of the prior 16ths. In fact, the piano does not play in this spot so indeed, it present very little problem if the soloist remember to make a diminuendo and keep the legato from the Bb to the high D very well connected. Not so easy, or better said, easier said than done, for this is an easily overlooked interval and the instinctive thing to do is to play it louder. It does “come” more easily, however at a terrible cost: an crescendo instead of a diminuendo and a loss of the context.In bar 16 we have the first incidence of concerto-like difficulty in the piano part. If the piece has been started too quickly the piano part is here completely obliterated at a cost of losing the whole movement. Again the key word here is amabile. For the pianists a perfectly secure and mature way of conceiving of this transition part which is so very difficult is to play at the exact beginning tempo or even slower. There are suddenly so many more notes with such large intervals that the only way in which interest and understanding are maintained is through very deliberate playing. And of course the tendency, especially amongst young players, is to rush.A suggestion here which is a timesaver: begin this movement only as fast as the pianist can cleanly execute bars 15 and 16. Had I known this as a young student I would have saved many hours in rehearsal time. One thing is clear: this is a neoclassical piece, meaning that there are not too many tempo deviations, and with a composer such as Brahms, consider that even less. Bars 15 and 16 set the tempo for the first movement.The transition passage starting on bar 28 contains another difficulty, one of rhythmic and of a syncopation proportions. The piano’s accompaniment here is duple meter, the clarinetist playing the melody in triplets, setting a complex rhythmic problem of which awareness is most important. The tendency is for the clarinet to switch to the piano’s metrical impetus, meaning they tend to play the rhythm of an eighth and two sixteenths. Read this place again, for it is tricky and the accident will occur without the awareness.What follows is both developmental and a transition finally resulting in the recapitulation starting at bar 103, fairly standard until the lovely coda of this movement at bar 162, another problem with syncopation between triplets and duplets, a constant in the music of Brahms. Now here one must remember that we must play accurately, that the syncopation is intended, however we may not play it in an aggressive manner, for then the grace of this coda and of Brahms can be distorted and made pedantic, rather than graceful.”Allegro appassionato”The second movement holds one big problem, again the tempo. An anecdote of a performance I heard of this sonata by the violist Paul Doktor and the pianist, Yalta Menuhin. He began the movement very quickly and when they arrived (too quickly) at bar nine, the pianist simply could not play that difficult part at the “too fast” tempo. So again, be very careful. Understand that always, the piano part is much more difficult than is that of the clarinet, but more than that, realize, that all the notes need to be heard at somewhat the same tempo.The “Sostenuto” containing new material is meant to be performed in a slower tempo, very legato and hymn-like, and the original tempo resumes at bar 140 and remains until the conclusion of this movement.The finale of this sonata is the last chamber music that Brahms ever wrote. It is a statement that I always recall before beginning this movement and it helps you to establish the tempo, for these is nothing carefree about this movement. It contains great moments in the repertoire and also is somewhat recapitulative of the composers entire stylistic palette.”Andante con moto”In form it is a theme with variations. The tempo is walking and with motion. Not fast. Play it too fast and, well it is unplayable for either of you and distorts the movement into something it is not. Ideally the tempo is ca. 60 for the eighth note. While the tempo does deviate, and does more as you begin to experience multi performances of this sonata, it is not incorrect to play it all at the same tempo, not at all. Short breathing spaces may be taken at the conclusion of each variation. As performer we learn when we may take more or less time. The final andante is played quite slowly and is difficult to sustain. It is followed by the final variation containing the most difficult and rapid music of the two sonatas, so, be advised to take plenty of time after the slow variation and prior to the last variation.The grazioso contains some of Brahms most beautiful “gypsy” style and is a wonderful duets for clarinet and piano, followed by the slow pulsating penultimate variation (think of the first movement of the first symphony). The Allegro of the final variation is allegro, not scherzo. A rapid tempo can be caused by thoughtlessness or nervousness. Avoid both and you will experience a wonderful friendship with most intimate, yet well-formed chamber music by this composer.There is one special spot within the coda of this movement which causes much difficulty. The difficulty is caused by the fact that the music surpasses the calligraphy of music notation of the time. Eighteen measure prior to the end of this sonata there is a diminished 7th chord in the piano. In the second beat of the following measure the piano plays the entire thematic material of the movement, always accenting the second beat of the measure. Thirteen bars before the end of the work the piano begins a series of 16th notes grouped in threes and sounding very much like triplets. However they are not, they are 16ths. Very difficult to count especially for the clarinetist. Here is the way to do it, completely eliminating the counting problem allowing complete security of ensemble. The piano plays 5 groups of 3 16ths (like triplets) at which point the clarinet comes in with the second eighth note of the measure, and at this point the return to duple time is achieved, the ensemble ending together to what is a great climactic arrival. (Clarinetist: count 5 groups of 16ths, then come in aggressively with the second eighth of the measure. Pianist follows the clarinet and ends in the duple time “surprise coda”. All professionals learn to pay the ending in this manner, however mostly it is a rote situation. Counting in the aforesaid manner is a way of complete security.)Good Luck!

Brahms Sonata in Fm for Clarinet and Piano, Opus 120, #1

April 16, 2004

Unlike other such works, these remain unique both in their compositional beauty of form and the clarinet; never in a 50 year plus career have I really felt that all there was to learn was, in fact learned. These works give you difficulties from the very first time you perform them until you stop, and the reason it stops is merely because you have, for the moment walked away. Here then are some of those difficulties for suggestion for consideration:

I first experienced the Eb Sonata, first movement when as a student in my second year of Brookline High School in Brookline, Mass., a suburb of Boston, when I played the first movement with a piano student named Irma Levine in a competition performed on the radio. The first prize was 5 dollars and either one or several boxes of Posts Sugar Crisps as I remember it, and we won (this was 1948) and it must have sounded ghastly, though I’ve never heard it, as there was not available duplication at the time).

The point is to say that Brahms was difficult then, and it has remained so, but let us hope at another level!

So this essay on the two sonatas, Opus 120 is a reflection on my long experience in performing them, (each more than 50 times in concert) and all of the many coaches I have had in the preparation, my experience in conducting Brahms Symphonies and in doing all of the works of this composer in a very long career.

These works were composed in 1894 and were first performed privately by Brahms and his favorite clarinetist, Richard Muhlfield in November of that year. Brahms at the piano and Mr. Muhlfield “On clarinet” as they say much to the dismay of purists. Present at the reading was Clara and Robert Schumann, and Joseph Joachim. (Would you have fainted dead away or not??) The first public performance was in 1895.

As you know, this was not the first clarinet music composed by Brahms, but it was the last, and he held them in his highest regard. There is of course, the Trio (Opus 114), the Quintet (Opus 115), and finally the Sonatas.

Please be advised that there is only one edition that I would recommend and that is “G. Henle” and they are URTEXT, the copy to have for it comes from Brahms personal copy of the First Edition by Carl Simrock.

This is always the edition to buy when you are beginning the study of a work of posterity, of history. One might as well have the original copy or the original itself, for editions with many errors do exist, and are performed.

One of the many teachers and musicians for whom I performed these works was Nadia Boulanger (while in Fontainebleau). Not only did she have magnificent suggestions, but she also taught a reverence for music which I have never experiences before or after. All music was to be covered, either in cellophane or wax paper, or even bound. If you came to a rehearsal with loose music, you were “out of luck” … Just think of your students coming to lessons these days with Xerox copies, completely untaped, out of order, sometimes a page missing … it does boggle the mind.

Of course the reader knows that it is the duplication of music that destroyed the whole industry. If you go to purchase an actual copy of music, it is impossibly expensive. The Brahms Sonatas cost a dollar and forty cents back then (1948) and all music, chamber music was terribly easy to buy and to collect. Now? Well, let us get to the music.

Before anything else, you must learn this music thoroughly, prior to asking a pianist to accompany you. Actually that is the incorrect term, for the work is much more difficult and intricate for the pianist than the clarinetist. Properly called these ought to be called Sonatas for Piano with Clarinet accompaniment, somewhat like the Beethoven Cello Sonatas.

First Movement, “Allegro appassionato”
Please note that the first movement of the F minor is marked Allegro appassionato. Many many times, these words are simply not read or understood. Both of the words are important and the movement must be though of a a passionate Allegro. What does that mean? Not much unless carefully though of and out. After many years of playing these and thinking these works, I have come to know that in the chamber music of Brahms, really fast allegro movements are infrequently found. That is to say in another way that Brahms likes his chamber music played slowly, and he mentions this several times. When I think of the many times I have heard pianists start this movement (the first) at a fast clip (fast is 120 for the quarter, or more), I remember the many botched performances I have heard. By appassionato what is meant is measured , deliberate, but allegro. Finally to prove the point about the tempo, it is simply unplayable at 120 for the quarter. While the clarinetist can perform at this tempo, the pianist, ANY pianist cannot get close to this tempo, so please do not try it. It is not a scherzo-type allegro.

All must be clear, heard and accurate and “in-tune” as well and that is the first insurmountable problem of the opening of the clarinet part of this sonata. Prior to going out “on stage” play the very opening with the pianist in order to perfectly tune with the pianist. If you do this and it is perfect you are “on your way” so to speak.

The first hurdle comes with the Bb in the 5th measure, the second in the Bb in the next measure, an octave higher. These must be the same Bb, believe me. Next is the impossible one, the interval formed in the 8th measure, the legato playing of C to high Eb. One might as well walk off right there. It must be legato, and there is only one way to achieve this as it is a somewhat technical problem: The easiest way to negotiate the two notes are with the C played with the left little finger, and the Eb then becomes an easier singular motion and for many people that is the end of the problem. If you continue to find it difficult the reason lies with grimacing and moving your embouchure between the two notes. REMEMBER, it is NOT the playing of either note, but the negotiation between the two. And what happens in between is the difficulty. Do not make any extraneous movement while you travel between the two notes. No shoulder movement, no squinting of eyes, and NO pinching of the embouchure. This is a simple interval to play. Making it difficult makes it impossible to play without some sort of glitch or worse. Here is another point: if you are getting to the point where you are petrified of this difficult place, forget it, do not slur the interval, but articulate it very quietly. Brahms will forgive …Never ever sacrifice this lovely music for that one slur. (Remember, however that this is a last resort!)

There are many who will think of the problems as being the most important of the movement; certainly it is that interval that leaves the impression. However the second theme beginning at bar 53 is the source of the worst possible mistake on the movement: the shortening of the third eighth note in this measure and the inadvertent loud accent usually placed upon this note. There is not crescendo written and certainly no accent and no traditional shortening of this full eighth note. By avoiding the accent the shortening, you will be performing this as written.

Bars 62-65 must be practised slowly and accurately prior to taking these measures “up to tempo”. If you do have the urtext, the articulations are important here. From bar #90, there is a traditional diminuendo from 90 until 95 at the change of key. Here, make sure you save your most beautiful legato and do not make the mistake of NOT marking fingerings, those alternating between left and right little fingers get confusing and one does not need needless errors in the quiet of that place.

The transition back to the recapitulation should be carefully practised as this contains both breathing problems and as well as fingering. 136 begins the recapitulation and of course, it is not a literal repeat of the initial material, but it does share many passages both from the first and second themes. In bar 185 it will be necessary to practise this with the piano a number of times. Here is the problem: the piano has the same melody as the clarinet, however it moves in groups of three 16th, while the clarinet moves in quarters, a traditionally impossible spot that is sometimes glossed over with pedal, or what have you. It is very difficult for the keyboard player, concerto difficulty, while the clarinetist has simple notes, a large difference seldom noticed by the clarinetist unfortunately.

There is a short transition to the lovely coda of this movement, another potentially difficulty in breathing and phrasing for the clarinet. Please mark your breaths prior to rehearsing with your accompanist, for if played perfectly together, this will leave a memorable impression upon the listener.

Second Movement, “Andante un poco Adagio”
One finds here a traditional difference of opinion because there are really two different implications of tempo and no metronome mark. They may be played at either 88 for the eighth note (approximately) or at 60 or less for the quarter note. That is a difference of tempo, a considerable one, however one finds that after playing the work a number of times, it is the implication of a moving yet slow basic pulse which is the point here. If one takes literally the word “andante”, or a walking tempo, it is an incorrect interpretation. Why? Because Brahms adds un poco Adagio and there is the concern. Consider it as a slow andante and think always of the eighth note and you will interpret correctly. It will take a while to settle on the correct tempo, however it is there to be found. It is in places like this second movement that the importance of performing this work with a fine partner is so important. It is never an accompanists job, it is more of a true collaboration.

Third Movement, “Minuet and trio, da capo”
The third movement is usually thought of as a slow scherzo. It works best played in a delicate pianissimo one measure to the bar, straight through, with all repeats, making certain that all dynamics are right in place. The form here is Minuet, Trio and da capo, a very typically classical movement. Please take special care to interpret the “teneremente” of the recapitulation of the minuet carefully, perhaps a trifle slower and quite pure in sound. It then proceeds to the original tempo to conclude this movement.

Fourth Movement, “Finale-Vivace”
Another ambiguity is found here and that is the fact that it is marked “vivace” but it is also marked in 4/4 time. One usually takes this route … “Oh, Brahms didn’t mean this, he meant alla breve, or the half note gets the beat” … Well, do not be too sure of that. If you allow the pianist to play this movement at around 82 and up for the half note, there are going to be serious problems for both players, having to do with rushing an obliteration of the composers intent. Only at bar 174 may you let go, so to speak until the end, and achieve the feeling of completion and vivace for this exciting finale.
Sherman Friedland

Buffet Full-Boehn Intonation

April 15, 2004

Pt. I

Dear Mr. Friedland,

I just bought a full-Boehm Buffet clarinet, which I am told is called an R-16 3/4. When I complained of intonation problems in the altissimo register, the person who sold it to me suggested I write to you, as you may have some experience with this particular model, and may even play one regularly. Specifically, from about high C on up the pitch gets progressively more flat, so by the time you reach, say, E natural (second ledger line) you’re almost a full half-step flat. I’ve tried a number of different barrels (Buffet 64mm, 65mm, and 66mm, a Buffet Moenning 66mm, and even a Buffet A 66mm), and a number of mouthpieces (four different Vandorens, M13, B-40, B-45, and RV5), to no avail. I’m pretty sure it’s not my embouchure, as I’ve been a musician for 30+ years and this doesn’t happen on any of the other half-dozen fine clarinets I own. Are there special fingerings one must learn and use on this model that I don’t know about? For example, I can make the high E tune by opening the side Eb-Bb palm key, but as a regular practice this would be very awkward, to say the least! Do you have any suggestions? I don’t want to spend a lot of time learning to “lip” certain notes into pitch and thinking about that problem instead of the music making.

Thanks in advance for taking the time to think about a solution.


Michael Leavitt

P.S. Enjoy your column in The Clarinet Pages, which is how I know your name

Pt. II

Dear Mr. Friedland,

Thanks for you quick reply.

1. When you say speaker key, are you talking about the register key, or something else?

2. With regard to the bore and length, the one thing I have noticed is that the bell for the instrument has no flange in it, that is the usual inside rim on which the lower joint comes to rest when the clarinet is put together.

3. Could this have anything to do with the intonation in the altimisso register? I just noticed this, at a time when I couldn’t experiment with other bells, but I will.



Pt. I

Dear Michael:

Thanks for your question. But I must tell you that it does confound a bit, though not completely. I will tell you that when I first acquired my Buffet full Boehm it played not very well at all. It was stuffy , funky, I called it, without much hope, but did not have those weird intonation problems. After having it adjusted it turned out very well indeed as I have stated.

Your instrument could have somewhat the same problems, however flat on all those notes makes me think of another problem. If there are no other bothersome intonation problems, which I find doubtful, it is possible that someone could have fooled with the length of the top joint in order to try to repair a perceived problem, however that too is doubtful.

I would take the speaker key off to see if the hole it covers is full of dirt of some kind; (that happened to me once) and clean it out totally, or there may be something in the bore of the clarinet, (also doubtful). Now here, for a break is a true story:

As a kid I studied in Texas for a couple of years prior to US army time (also in Texas). Once I came home to Boston and found my A clarinet to be terribly stuffy, awful. I finally looked in the bore of the clarinet, shook it, and out came a very big and live spider!!!!!!!!. I wish I could say it was a Tarantula, but frankly I dispatched the thing very quickly and, as they say, I did not look back.

Back to your full Boehm, adjustment, speaker key blocked is really all I can think of presently, however please look at my site and see if there is not another article on the same or similar subject.

Which brings me to the point of constructing a better index . That site is a large book length, I think and with a proper index it could be a better help to people.

Thanks for writing and good luck. Tell me if you find the problem. Yes, it could be a lemon clarinet. They are few, but certainly exist. Or, it can be that part of the instrument got terribly warped, another remote possibility

Pt. II

1. Yes, register key.

2. No, unless you think that the clarinet joint has been cut there; if so, a big insurmountable probably.

3. No, see #2. Examining the bell will be a waste of time.

Please examine to see if the clarinet is, by any chance, a Mazzeo Model. Usually it says so on the bell and other places. It probably is not, however I know of some Buffets that have been changed to Mazzeo. I knew students who wanted the Mazzeo, but played Buffets, so they played Buffet and had the fingering system changed. Little chance, but possible.

I am getting “curioser and curioser”. When you play Bb, what concert pitch comes out?

Stravinsky Three Pieces for Clarinet Solo

April 14, 2004

I’m playing the Stravinsky Three Pieces this summer. I’ve never played anything so modern before and I don’t really understand what’s going on. I can play the notes, but the music isn’t coming. How can I understand this piece? I’m 15 – am I too young?Thank you very much,- Micaela.

These are usually and correctly performed on the A clarinet for movements 1 and 2 and on Bb for the final movement. It makes very good sense to perform the pieces in the above manner as the notes themselves point to this interpretation and “the theater” of walking onstage with two instruments is always quite effective….and it does sound much better. You will have no problem switching quickly to the Bb to get to the fast last movement, for this is no implication of a key and therefore an intonational connection between the two.Concerning the Stravinsky Three Pieces for Clarinet Solo, they are the most challenging works you will see for a while and will give you a real key into the 20th century and for accurate reading and interpretation which will last you a lifetime, for I consider this work one of the most important for the young clarinetist to learn, and to learn really well.As you know they were written in 1919 and published later by both Boosey and Hawkes and Omega Music, which is my copy at present reading. This one reads, “published in 1949”, Omega Music Company, and the price was 80 cents.

The First Piece

It is in this first little piece of a mere 30 measures that you will be presented with apparently insurmountable problems, which will eventually become terribly simple, for they really are. Remember the tempo marking, quarter note equals 100 on the metronome. Immediately a suggestion that will unravel this piece is to count the first in 8th notes, that is to say 50 for the eighth. If you own a metronome, set it on 50 and go through the entire first piece with the metronome on counting eighth notes. Remember the tempo and dynamic marking ” Sempre p and molto tranquillo”. That’s the secret of the first piece. Quietly and very much “at peace”.In this work and any 20th century work (I think every work) you must play exactly what is one the page and you observe every mark you see as being absolutely sacrosanct Ö no deviation from what is on the page.Observe every breath mark, for they are part of the “way in” to this first piece, and indeed the whole work.I remember almost every word that Mlle Boulanger told me when we worked together on these pieces in her apartment at Fontainebleau.She sat at the piano and I sat with my clarinet(s) next to her. She would demonstrate easily and immediately make the transposition to the A clarinet (the clarinet upon which one should perform the first piece). She mentioned to me that this is a somber piece, a very regular, almost monotonous kind of regularity as part of it, and she actually used “The Volga Boatmen” as a quotation for this piece; she called it perhaps “Variations upon the Volga Boatmen”.A very simple statement, however if you will use that little example of her suggestive teaching when you play this first piece, you will always get it in a correct style. The breath marks, as already stated are to be taken literally and they are to be really a breath. If you will stop at breath marks, and then start again, seamlessly, you will learn one of the most important lessons of any clarinetists job: it must be seamless, and it must be musical, never abrupt, never mechanical or “robot-like” In this work and truly in all others, you must become a part of the instrument and music and vice versa.I have received that comment about my own playing, “it would seem as if you and the clarinet are one, inseparable”. It is THE comment that counts. You are a musician, you are making music, you are realizing something sensitive and beautiful for the audience.Back to the first piece. Be very careful of your intonation! If you DO have an A clarinet, be careful of the low E because it is almost always quite flat, or can be. So actually is this note on the Bb, but more noticeable on the A. Also be careful f the intonation of the note D# and down to F#. There are many of these notes within this first piece. If you can, never use the so-called one and one fingering for the D#. It is much too sharp and only used in very rapid passages, Try to always use the same D#, for they all differ and may present a mixed message as far as intonation is concerned.Check your tempo frequently and stay at 50 for the eighth; observe thM slurs very carefully. The legato must also be seamless. The few changes in dynamics must be discernible by all in the audience. Sometimes we see dynamics and we THINK we are making them, but few listeners can tell. make sure it starts and stays piano and that you observe and carry out every direction. If you do not, you are making a mistake, same as a wrong note, the very same.When you finally arrive at the last 2 measures, remember that the statement reads a bit faster and a bit louder. I usually play these last two measures quite full and in a declamatory manner, with a very long fermata, diminishing to nothing. Then after the final sound is completed, keep the clarinet “up” and after perhaps 10 seconds, slowly and quietly hold it at rest. You must always remember that realizing music has with it a bit of theater as well. Let the listener know that you have concluded the first piece.Learning and rehearsing this first little piece should take quite a while. After you are sure that you have literally “mastered” this first work, you may go to the second

The Second Piece

The second movement contrasts perfectly with the first, employing all of the practical notes on the instrument, played very quickly and without any apparent regulation, at least to the ear of the listener. The piece is comprised of two similar sections at the beginning and repeating at the conclusion and a central middle section in contrast to the two “bookends”.To the performer, it is a very ordered work, especially metrically. Please note the markings: eighth equals eighth, sixteenth equals sixteenth and three sixteenths equal one eighth. The tempo for the eighth is 168 on the metronome for each eighth note. The setting therefore on your metronome should be 168 Ö after you have learned the piece at least twice that slowly, if not a third of the tempo. And it is a good idea to subdivide in that manner; as you continue to learn contemporary idioms, you will learn that subdividing in this manner at an exact portion of the original tempo is a kind of “metric modulation”. Metric modulations are ‘the stock and trade” of contemporary composers.Learn the term, it is not difficult and will help every aspect of your playing, especially the degree of sophistication you bring to the rehearsal and your basic understanding of what you are doing.Many, many, many young players only learn the notes, nothing else, in a kind of arrogance that will not serve any cause having to do with music.Notice! there is only one measure or NO measure(s) in this second piece. You are governed only by the metric markings at the beginning.Start slowly, at perhaps 54 for three sixteenths and do not think that you are playing triplets , for at the conclusion of the second group of 16ths you are confronted with TWO sixteenths which are to be played exactly as two sixteenths and NOT as a duplet, (which was done by more performers that I can remember).When you have learned the first two lines perfectly at the slow tempo, you have already learned the last two, for they are virtually identical, with slight changes, the second piece having the same slower and louder “tag” at the conclusion as the first . There is an immediate (sudden) less forte few notes and a softening and diminishing quality of the execution, which makes a tremendous impression if done correctly.Now, I have left the middle section because there is more contrast and more humor in this section than one would think . I interpret the double bar there as a large pause, (during which time you can catch your breath) Then start in the following manner: very rhythmic playing in pianissimo , it is like a cute little dance, punctuated by three interruptive sections in a different register of the clarinet . Then! there is an apparent repeat of this material, (transposed) which is metamorphosed into the original tempo of the beginning. The last two lines of this piece are some very difficult clarinet-playing . Please do yourself the favor of learning this VERY slowly, very smooth legato and , in no manner, screechy … never screech on the clarinet, and never squeal, even if the music is difficult and you would like to get it over with as soon as possible.Instead practice it slower than you would normally, emphasizing your beautiful smooth legatissimo playing and technical proficiency. The dynamics in this second piece are even more important than in the first and make the difference between mediocre and excellent. Observe the fermatas! They are places to rest, if only for a moment. The rhythm stops there and no one will notice if you take that extra breath to restore your powers. I find that this composer is very very keenly intelligent and you will perform at a high level if you adhere to every marking, every time.Take three or four times the time(as you did for the first). to learn the notes of the second movement.

The Third Piece

A very busy and regular last movement, all in the same register of the instrument, at the same tempo, and the same dynamic marking from beginning to end. Do not make the mistake of practicing this too fast, for it requires a bit more though than the others and is very regular in sound and intensity.Practicing it too fast will give you and the audience a “bad taste” t(o say nothing of Mr. Stravinsky).16th equals sixteenth from beginning to end; therefore practice at the eighth note at a slow tempo initially, with your most beautiful and liquid sound. Fix every technical bump, every sound, and especially every accent must be practiced so that it all is within your chosen timbral sphere (the quality of sound you have chosen and your parameters of loud and soft.)This piece is completely regular and the audience must feel the tempo of 160 regardless of what you are doing. This piece, the last movement, will have the effect of being over even before it has started , and if you perform it exactly as written, performing the last 16th loudly, followed by a “cute” Bb with quite a long fermata and then a quick grace note to the upper Bb, you will leave the audience breathless.So, in a brief overview, the first of the 3 movements is quiet and rather reflective, emphasizing the quality of a Russian Folk song in the performance, contrasted by the second, which begins and end much more quickly, almost abruptly, followed by a very metrical and quick “march”, again, with the abrupt and humorous, though different ending (than the first two).Good luck with Mr. Stravinsky and in all your endeavors.


Milhaud Suite for Violin, Clarinet and Piano

April 14, 2004

I was wondering if you would comment on your album “Music from Concordia”. I’m really interested in one of the selections of the CD. Is the piece by Darius Milhaud titled “Suite for Clarinet, Violin, and Piano”? I’m thinking about doing this piece on a college recital with a friend of mine that plays the violin. I read somewhere that this piece is great fun. Would this be a piece that could be put together within about three weeks? Would you be able to recommend where I would be able to get the music for this piece rather quickly? If I ordered the CD from you, is it possible to get it right away? Thank you in advance for your time and help.

It is midnight and I think I will write about this now as this is one of my most played works in my career. I know it very well and coached it with my teacher, Rosario Mazzeo.Darius Milhaud is one of the most prolific composers in the history of music, having composed over a thousand works including many for or including the clarinet. The Overture Suite is not the most important or impressive. The most incredible work, a work of historical importance, features the clarinet in a difficult solo; long, highly stylized and technically challenging – “La Creation Du Mond”, The Creation of the World, a score for the ballet completed in the early 20’s, 1923 I think. It features a chamber orchestra with saxophone, clarinet, flute, oboe, two trumpets, trombone, two violins, double bass, and a full set of trap drums. It is really a jazz piece, perhaps the best of its kind, for although written out it truly sounds like improvised music.Back to the Overture Suite: it is for violin, clarinet and piano and is from 1935. It is more stylistically challenging than technically, although it is far from easy, especially for the clarinet. It has quick and agile passages in the first, third and last movements, all in E major for the clarinet. On the recording, I played these movements on the A clarinet, which make them a piece of cake, as they say. If you have an A, consider this option. The first movement should be fast and light, perhaps as much as 132 for the quarter note. There are many octaves with the violin and clarinet, highly problematic, again because of the key and the voicing. You need a technically good pianist with very good rhythm and large hands for this movement; it remains in the same sprightly tempo throughout its short length. The second movement is a lullaby that changes tempi and again features tuning problems mostly because of the clarinet solo lying where it does on the instrument, along with the repeated legato octaves.The third movement is fun, but tricky rhythmically and technically. Again, choose the A clarinet if you have one and know how to transpose. It is for violin and clarinet only, and becomes difficult because the tempi must remain cohesive and there are several disparaging rhythms with which to deal.Movement four and five are really joined, one an overture of sorts leading into a pleasant and very French finale. They pose the most serious musical problems. Ending this piece is difficult; setting the right mood and the change of tempo present problems that have to be settled prior to performance.In three weeks? Depend on how much experience you have putting together chamber music. I would say yes if you are doing it with experienced chamber players and you are committed to the 6 or 8 rehearsal it will take, or should take. Do NOT make the mistake of underestimating the work because it casts a light shadow. It should sound like cafÈ music. If you are able to do this, you have cracked the problem in this Milhaud, but frequently that is not easy to do. If you are too jocular, you will blow it, making it sound trite and too light; the opposite is true as well. Learn your parts very well; if you all do, it will diminish the problems. Coach it with an experienced player, preferably one who has performed the piece.The music is available from Durand – any foreign music place should know how to get it. It should be in all performance libraries, too. Send me your address along with the price and I will send the CD to you immediately … don’t forget to include your address!Best of all good luck, and thanks again for you interest

Messiaen La Quatour Pour La Fin du Temps / The Quartet for the End of Time – Pt. II

April 14, 2004

La Quatour Pour La Fin du Temps, by Olivier Messiaen, 1941Quatuor pour la fin du temps (Quartet for the End of Time), scored for the unusual combination of violin, clarinet, cello, and piano. These happened to be the instruments, broken-down though they were, available when Messiaen, a famished and frozen prisoner of war, wrote the piece in a Silesian internment camp. There the quartet received its first performance, before an audience of 5,000. “Never,” the composer later wrote, “had I been listened to with such attention and understanding.”One can only imagine what that first performance must have been on the broken old instruments and the cold temperature and the condition of the players themselves.This is a work which has never failed to fascinate me, regardless of how many times I have performed it, for it is one of the few works of chamber music which always transcends the moment, the ordinary rehearsals, the repititiousness, everything; and the players are spiritually charged and drawn toward one another in the joy of the moment which is the performance. It is uncanny for this reason, for not only is it a wonderfully and unusually written composition but it reflects the genius and the spirit of a prisoner of war, in solitude.For me, it is the single most beautiful work of our century for the clarinet. Never be put off from working on this piece, for while it may be a bit foreign initially and certainly quite difficult, the joys in the work are really well worth the effort, and it is a wonderful work for the audience as well.These performing notes were written specifically for the clarinetist and encompass my many performances of the work in addition to working with musicians who had performed it with Olivier Messiaen as well. (He was a pianist)I. Liturgie de cristal [Liturgy of Crystal]I remember once a long while ago while in the midst of rehearsals for this work, I awoke in the middle of a warm summers night and walked over to an open window for some fresh air. It was totally silent, the hum of the city diminished as it was just about 4 am. Suddenly, softly and with great beauty, a songbird began singing all alone. I was really shocked to actually hear the enactment of Messiaen’s description of the first movement of the work.Each time I have performed the work, I always think of the song of this bird on that Montreal morning, … so think of yourself as this bird which begins to sing all alone, pianissimo, and is joined momentarily by other birds and insects. It is the entrance of the clarinet which is the beginning of this spiritual work. If performed quite metrically and pianissimo and not speeding up, gently caressing the trills, you lead all of the others into the piece, for they have your part written into their parts, and your accuracy is rather crucial.II. Vocalise, pour l’Ange qui annonce la fin du temp [Vocalise for the Angel who announces the end of time]This is for the entire ensemble; however the clarinet plays only at the beginning and the very end of the piece, playing a forte trill, a good final preparation for the next, which is the tour de force for the clarinetist, played solo.III. Abime des oiseaux [Abyss of the birds]This is a seven minute solo passage for the clarinet alone with two basic expressive directions:One is rather desolate, played extremely slowly. It should be played both at the beginning of the Abyss and at the end, with extreme legato espressivo, exactly as is marked, not an easy direction to follow. Performing it for the first time at a full rehearsal will give you the parameters of what you are expected to do in terms of extremes of pianissimo and fortissimo, both of which are used frequently in the two slow sections. The other is to be played with brilliance and jubilance for it is the song of the birds. Again, not easy and set apart from the slow sections by the far off entrance of the clarinet which must be played from pianissimo to fortissimo with no loss of sound or of pitch. The F# is a note that one begins without the tongue, but with the breath alone and with tremendous support, the sound coming from nowhere and ending in an almost threatening fortissimo. When looking for the “Messiaen reed”, try these F#s. If you can begin from the next town, that should be the reed to choose. The “birds”, as my wife is so fond of calling them, in this movement should recall the songs of the birds. Jubilant, even ecstatic are the words one uses, however technically perfect. Do not perform any faster than the written metronome marking.As for the three forte-piano low register entrances, I was once told by an electro-acoustic composer that he thought they were being played by an electronic source, which I took as a great compliment. By the time they appear, you are already a bit fatigued, yet you must give your all for these forte-pianos constitute some of the very soul of the Abyss.The ending of the movement is exactly the same as the beginning, save for being an octave lower and is really to be played quite easily, freely, expressivo; HOWEVER, you must save something for the last two high F#s, one forte, the next pianissimo. If you can execute these as written, the final flurry almost allows you enought time to get your breath before the next piece, which comes almost immediately after your solo.IV. Intermede [Intermezzo]This is a completely tonal, harmonic little trio for clarinet, violin and cello. Everyone plays the whole short little piece, and unfortunately the work is filled with extreme difficulty for the clarinetist for he must demonstrate his ability to mix with the others perfectly, whereas in the former movement it was his to execute. The intonation is difficult within this little “intermission” piece.V. Louange a l’Eternite de Jesus [Praise for the Eternity of Jesus]This is written for violincello and piano only. In some ways, it is the most spiritually intense work of the Quartet. The hallmark direction for this piece is the tempo marking, around 42 for the eighth note, quite a slow tempo and very difficult for sostenuto and for bowings.VI. Danse de la fureur, pour les sept trompettes [Dance of Fury For the seven trumpets]Here, for the clarinetist and for the rest of the ensemble, is the most difficult piece. There are two things which most always be remembered:The work is all in unison or in displaced octaves. Therefore the blend is always to be considered. Everyone has the same rhythm, all the time. These rhythms are not written out in measures (however they are measured), but within the context of either two sixteenth notes or three sixteenth notes. The tempo for the eighth is crucial: 176,for each eighth note. Once that concept is accepted it is only a matter of playing and tuning together. One must stop whenever any single mistake is made, for it is all unison,so no mistakes in note or rhythm or even intonation can be made. Not the easiest of pieces to prepare but easily accomplished when you have at least one player who either knows the secret or has played the piece. The piece can be put together in only several hours of rehearsal if all of the above criteria are strictly observed.VII. Fouillis d’arcs-en-ciel, pour l’Ange qui annonce la fin du temps [ …Rainbows, for the Angel who announces the end of time]Many varying slow tempi which must be strictly observed, intonation difficulties because of the long passage of trills between clarinet and cello, half steps apart. But, somehow, after the Seven Trumpets, a much easier part to put together; requires time in order to learn each other’s parts.VIII. Louange a l’Immortalite de Jesus [Praise for the Immortality of Jesus]For violin and piano alone. Achingly slow and difficult going into fifth position for the violin and sostenuto, with the slow and regular yet changing chord patterns in the piano.A Few Pointers and Lessons to be Learned:Although a work of 48+ minutes in duration, usually taking a whole program, the work has several unique facets: It is a work which seems to encourage the spirit and the spirit quallity of each player and allows each of the players to be a soloist of considerable importance. The responsibilities being well balanced, the quartet has a wonderful attitude toward the work’s rehearsals.It take less time to form the work into a performance because the clarinet works alone on his solo, and the cello and violin work with the pianist on theirs; that may sound banal, however in these days and time and rehearsal times, this is an absolute pleasure to rehearse for those reasons. This work is by perhaps the most important composer of the middle of the 20th century, also a magnificent pianist and teacher of composition. For instance, he was the teacher of Boulez and Stockhausen.While I have peformed the work more than a dozen times, maybe two dozen, it has brought to me the most musical enjoyment of any work I have played. The first time I played the work in Montreal. I was in the Clarinet movement, which was going beautfully when the fire alarm went off. It didn’t stop and the perormance at the last F# in the clarinet part had to be cancelled. Memorable, but the beauty of the work transcends all.Best of luck to all who undertake this wonderful piece.

Messiaen La Quatour Pour La Fin du Temps / The Quartet for the End of Time – Pt. I

April 14, 2004

This work, for Violin, Clarinet, Cello and Piano, composed in 1941 by the 20th century master, Olivier Messiaen, was conceived and written in a concentration camp,Stalag VIIIA in Silesia, on January 15, 1941.It remains the single most beautiful, spiritual, and one of the most challenging of the 20th century, and certainly deserves to be on every serious clarinetists list of works to perform or to perform again, and again.I have had the good fortune to perform the work more than a dozen times both in Canada and the US. I had heard much about the work before I purchased the parts and then studied the work for many years before our first performance with the Montreal Chamber Quartet in Boston, Massachusetts at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.Prior to my performing analyses of the work and especially the discussion of the Solo Clarinet section: “Abyss of the Birds” (Abime des oiseaux), I want to set down the English translation of the text and the words of the composer himself, Olivier Messiaen.MovementsCrystal Liturgy Vocalise for the Angel who announces the end of time Abyss of the Birds Intermezzo In praise of the Eternity of Jesus Dance of Fury, for the seven trumpets Cluster of rainbows, for the Angel who announces the end of Time In praise of the Immortality of Jesus Olivier Messiaen and the Quartet for the End of Time.”I saw a mighty angel come down from heaven, clothed in a cloud and with a rainbow on its head. And his face was as if it were the sun and his feet pillars of fire. He set his right foot upon the sea and his left foot on earth, and standing upon the sea and the earth, lifted his hand up to heaven and swore by Him who lives forever and ever saying: THERE SHALL BE TIME NO LONGER; but on the day of the trumpet of the seventh angel, the mystery of God shall be consummated.” (Revelation of St. John, Chapter X, verses 1 to seven).Conceived and written during my detention, “Quartet for the End of Time” was first played at Stalag VIIIA on January 15,1941 by Jean La Boulaire (violin), Henry Akoka (clarinet), Etienne Pasquier (cello) and myself on piano. It was directly inspired from this quote from the Apocalypse. Its musical language is essentially non-materialistic, spiritual, catholic. The styles melodiously and harmoniously bring out an ubiquitous tonality, and draws the listener closer to a sense of eternity in time and space. Special rhythms strongly help to detach onself from the temporal. (All this remains babblings when we consider the overwhelming grandeur of the subject!)The Quartet is made up of eight movements. Why? Seven is the perfect number, the creation of six days sanctified by the holy sabbath: the seventh day of rest continues into eternity and becomes the eight of the invulnerable light of inalterable peace.”1. Crystal Liturgy. Between 3 and 4 o’clock in the morning, the awakening of the birds. A blackbird or a nightingale soloist improvises, surrounded by sonorous dust, a halo of trills lost high in the trees. Translate that into a religious context: You will have the harmonious silence of Heaven!2. Song for the Angel who Announces the End of Time. The first and third parts (very short) evoke the power of this mighty angel — crowned with a rainbow, clothed in a cloud — who stands one foot upon the sea and one foot on earth. All around are the eternel harmonies of heaven. Soft cascades on the piano … a distant carillion clang … and the simple strains of the violin and cello.3. Abyss of the Birds. Clarinet Solo. The Abyss is Time with its sadnesses, its lassitudes. The birds are the opposite of Time. They are our desire for light, for the stars, for rainbows, the joyful song.4. Interlude. Scherzo has a more outgoing character than the other movements but, at the same time, it is connected to them by melodic reminders.5. Homage to The Eternity of Jesus. Jesus is deemed the Word. Through the cello, love and reverence magnifies this powerful but sweet Word into a powerful statement. The melody majestically fades into the distance. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was in God and the Word was God.6. Dance of Fury for Seven Trumpets. Rhythmically, the most characteristic piece of the series. The four instruments combine to give the impression of gongs and trumpets. (The first six trumpets of the Apocalypse is followed by various catastrophes. The trumpet of the seventh angel announces the consumation of the mystery of God). Use of added [rhythmic] values, rhythms augmented or diminished… Music of stone, of formidable, sonorous granite…7. Rainbows for the Angel who Announces the End of Time Certain passages from the second movement recur here. The powerful angel appears, above all the rainbow that covers him … In my dreams I hear and see a catalogue of chords and melodies, familiar colours and forms … The swords of fire, these outpourings of blue-orange lava, these turbulent stars … 8. The Eternity of Jesus Expansive solo violin, counterpart to the violoncello solo of the fifth movement. Why this second encomium? It addresses more specifically the second aspect of Jesus, Jesus the Man, the Word made flesh…. Its slow ascent toward the most extreme point of tension is the ascension of man toward his God, of the child of God toward his Father, of the being made divine toward Paradise.

Trouble With Tonguing

April 14, 2004

I have a student that is having trouble tonguing.She is tonging in the middle of her tongue and getting a very slow response. She has abeautiful tone, but her tonguing is not real clean, particularly the scales. She can run all the scales quite well slurring but has trouble tonguing.Please advise.

Let us assume that the student is a fairly new student and has a good embouchure and does not have to wear braces. Perhaps the most important aspect of playing the clarinet is the sound, the quality of tone. The teacher deserves high praise for that, as does the student. Whatever follows must happen with the same quality, for detached notes are nothing but detached notes.

They should not be of a different quality of sound. One of the worst sins we commit as early students is to adopt a quality of detached playing that differs from the basic tone. Staccato is almost always too short. The word means detached, not short.

So conceptually, the idea must be not specifically technical, but musical, from the aspect of the sound. Every mouth is different as are teeth, lips and tongue. Stay on the side of the sound itself. Work from that aspect, for not only will it work for everyone, it will also make the student concentrate fully on exactly what is coming from the instrument. Then start in the low register with articulation, for it is much easier, much more direct. Always go very slowly, and keep the sound in mind. The tongue can be in a dozen different position depending upon your use of the language and the particular set of the student’s embouchure.

This takes work and concentration, but almost always works: Have the student take a note that is well liked, (usually because it always comes out well). Place the tongue, the smallest amount possible at what is considered the tip of the reed and allow a bit of air to escape into the instrument (you will hear the air escaping). Maintain the support you will need to play and remove more of the tongue until (usually suddenly), the sound will come. Basically, and in slow motion, this is correct clarinet articulation. This should be repeated, but not so many times so that the student either loses concentration or her sound begins to suffer. One or two low notes at a time is fine until the teacher is sure the concept is correct. Keep the ratio of staccato practising well below that of sound, five or ten minutes at a practise session is just fine.

When I was a beginning student, I progressed very quickly, mostly I think (now) because I imitated my teacher. But I did NOT place my tongue against the reed, for it sounded terrible, so I avoided it completely, and progressed very rapidly. It took me a year or two before I dared (after knowing I was playing incorrectly) to try correct playing. It was awful, but only for a little while. Remember, articulation comes last with the development of the young player, and if you practise your weaker aspect slowly, really slowly, it will become your strongest. I hope that this is a help. It has worked over and over again with literally hundreds of young students.

Intonation Problems

April 12, 2004

When I play a passage, particularly a fast passage, going up to the high altissimo register, the notes come out flat. I have tried to “tighten and smile” more, but I was told that this was really a bad thing to do. The embouchure should not have to change with the range of the clarinet. When I just play one note in the altissimo (like F), it doesn’t sound bad. But when playing sheet music, with rhythm, I still sound flat. I try to relax, but I know the flatness is inevitable.

I would appreciate any insight you may have. My setup is a Selmer CL210 (wooden intermediate) with a Selmer C85 105 tip opening (Medium close), 3.5 V12 reed and a Rovner 1R ligature. I am an amateur adult clarinet player playing in a local community band. I have played up through high school and have taken 2 years of private instruction.

Not having seen or heard you play, I will work with the facts that you have given.

First of all, the C85 mouthpiece is an excellent choice. It is perhaps the best that Selmer has produced. I know because I played one for about six or seven years, and because it is specifically designed to be played with the Selmer “Recital” clarinet, which I played for the same length of time.

The C85s seems to have a better sound, and anyone playing one on any clarinet will find it agreeable. But it is of a different bore and you will have to adjust for intonation. What I am saying is that the C85 was designed for the Recital, as I was told, which itself is a different bore than other clarinets, such as the Buffet R-13. I played the same mouthpiece that you now play and I had difficulty with it, and finally changed back to the 120 bore of the same mouthpiece which gave me my best results, as far as tuning is concerned. If you keep the 105 you will probably have to use a stiffer reed to get more resistance and to keep your altissimo “up” as they say. Use a medium hard reed with a medium close mouthpiece. If you change to the 115 or the 120, you will have better success with high notes, and be able to use more flexible reeds; i.e., “softer”.

Any decent clarinet will not have that much to do with tuning, nor will the ligature, but the mouthpiece is crucial. Your problem may not be mouthpiece. however; it could be the resistance of the reed.

Also, again I’m hearing fast passages being out of tune. Practise all fast passages SLOWLY. Most students will play flat in the high register if the passage is fast. Lots of students avoid the high register in their practise because it is rather odious to play up there, because the softer reed plays beautifully mostly, but … the high register passage appears, and the student rushes through it because it is unpleasant. This kind of practise doesn’t improve the student at all. Practise slowly even if it is high. Concentrate on evenness of tone and the flat squeal will go away. With correct and slow practise, really taking on the problem in a rational manner, your weaknesses will become your strengths.

Best of good luck in all your playing.