Do I Need an A Clarinet?

Dear Mr. Friedland,

I am a high school student in the process of applying to and auditioning for universities. One of my audition pieces will be a part of the Mozart Clarinet concerto and I don’t have an A clarinet. I have had my Bb for four years now. It’s a Yamaha 34II, wooden. I know eventually I’ll have to replace my Bb and purchase an A, but, if I could only do one or the other before I audition, which would you recommend?

In addition, do you know of a good transposed edition of the Mozart Concerto? (one that leaves the clarinet part as is and transposes the piano part so that it works with Bb clarinet.) Either way, my teacher recommended the Buffet R-13. There are a lot of options available (silver plated keys, Gore-Tex pads, etc.) I find it all pretty confusing. Help!!

Thank you very much,

Colleen

Dear Colleen:

Many thanks for your note and the question it asks. This is an important question and I know that it plagues a lot of young players. It did me (when I was young) (was I young?) The Mozart Clarinet Concerto (K.622) is the only concerto for the clarinet by Mozart and one of the more beautiful of all single-line instrument concertos. It is heard virtually everywhere.

The interesting thing about this concerto is that it remains the most difficult Clarinet Concerto. Why? Because it remains difficult whenever in your clarinet life you perform it. Musicians say “It is too transparent, virtually every note is difficult, every legato passage, impossible”. This concerto is used in every orchestral audition for clarinet. Why? Because it is absolutely pure. One note slightly out of place and everyone knows it.

But do not be frightened for it is accessible for any clarinetist who can play the notes. As you improve the concerto gets more difficult. (Remember what I say.)

The piano part is not a piano part, it is a reduction of the orchestra for piano accompaniment of the clarinetist. You MUST play the part as it appears on the music, in the key of A major for the A clarinet. If you play it on Bb, the piano part becomes impossible, really terribly awkward for the pianist. So, you have a choice: either acquire (buy or rent) an A clarinet, or perhaps borrow one from a friend, or change the piece that you are going to play.

It may sound as if I am a purist and that could not be further from the truth. You must play the piece on the A clarinet and with the original piano part. Really, borrowing one or perhaps buying one or renting it is a much better idea than to get the piano part written for Bb clarinet; it is too hard for the pianist.

Thanks for the question and good luck on your audition.

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