Leblanc Opus – change to a new clarinet?

I noticed on one of your postings that you mentioned that you use a Leblanc Opus. I currently use a Leblanc Opus and have considered getting a new clarinet. The Buffet R13 Prestige has the auxiliary Eb key which I don’t think I can survive without. I have also heard that the Boosey & Hawkes 1010 is an excellent instrument. Would either of these be a big step up from my current instrument, or should I just stick with my Opus?

When clarinetists decide to change instruments, they do so for any one of a very large group of reasons. First a direct answer to your question: No, you will not be climbing up a big step by changing to a Boosey and Hawkes 1010 instrument or a Buffet Prestige. You will be rendering your Leblanc Opus practically worthless if you decide to trade the instrument and the Leblanc is simply not that old an instrument. It is built better than either the Buffet or the 1010, which, by the way, is an older instrument necessitating a different and special mouthpiece (which is a marriage which might not be one that will present you anything but trouble, both entering into and divorce, which is inevitable). The Buffet is a fine instrument, but not an ounce better than the Opus, Leblanc’s finest, and in my judgement, the best-built instrument of all three mentioned. Do you have a set of these or just the Bb?

Buy yourself a new case instead.

The changing clarinetist changes so many things, not just the instruments when you change. The clarinet, if you are like most of us, is an intimate part of you: an extension of your musicality, for the difference in a fine and sensitive player is usually described as “the clarinet seems a part of him … or her”.

Intonation on any clarinet is different from any other – even of two of the same exact manufacturer and consecutive serial numbers. And, of course, you change as you change and go from instrument to instrument in this “trying game”, which can indeed change to a “crying game”, for after two or three instruments your head and your ears do not know what is happening – nor does your mouth and throat.

So, changing instruments is dictated when you are playing on a remedial instrument, perhaps the plastic one you have started on, or an instrument that has always been terribly “out-of-tune”, or an instrument that simply fails in your sound-ideal, or is uncomfortable to play, or is wrecked or dangerously cracked , or you are in a long-held symphony position and you have decided to change instruments, because you are an experimenter … or perhaps an instrument maker gave you a set so that he can advertise using you. That happens, by the way. It happened to me in my first job … but that is a very long story, another time, another time.

As some readers may know, I performed on the Mazzeo System clarinet for many years. These instruments were available only upon special order from Selmer and one took what one got. I never got them from Selmer. I played my teachers own set, his spare set which he offered to me – they played beautifully. However, the point of this is to mention that this exclusive Selmer make on the instrument was both good and bad. It was good that choice was limited for a young clarinetist. What does a young new kid on the block know? Not much. So that is one thing I never worried about. But, when the time came for me to try new instruments, I went from horn to horn, sometimes a couple a week. I was teaching then , performing only several times a year, and … the big one … clarinets were cheap: three or four hundred dollars each. I did not pay; the dealer would let me take one for a week or so.

So, it was really party time for me, and for my students since they were the audience in this demonstration. Which reminds me: one of the very best instruments I came upon was a Leblanc L-25 I believe. The tuning was absolutely perfect, really every note, especially the throat Bb and the low E and the open G. What an instrument! I can confess now that the reason I did not purchase the instrument was that Leblanc was simply not a name that had much respect in the serious-music clarinet business. I remember now always extolling its virtues each time I played it … but finally giving it back. What I remember really liking on that L-25 was the set of the keys. They seemed to be exactly made for my hands, really. I did play one of my best performances of the Weber Quintet on that horn. The tape still sound good.

Anyway, I also played Buffets, both R13s and the Prestige, and a full-Boehm (23 keys and 7 rings), a set of Selmers Mazzeos, then another one, then the Selmer Recital … called affectionately “The Log”, for it was of a thicker wood and smaller bore, a good instrument, however necessitating a mouthpiece bore change. Only the C-85 Selmer mouthpiece has the correct bore for that instrument, then finally the Opus by Leblanc. I bought them from the principal clarinetist of the Kansas City Symphony. They are excellent, however, he sold them because he felt the projection was not what he wanted. He is a fine player.

And you are as well. Thanks for your question. I do hope that I have been some help in deciding your course. The Pete Fountain is certainly a good instrument, so are all of the Leblancs. In my opinion you can do better with an instrument with a slightly smaller bore. Best of all good luck in everything.

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