The altissima,Copland and an approach fr consideration

> Mr. Friedland,
> I came across your Clarinet Corner earlier today and have spent hours
> pouring over it. Specifically, your writings on the Herculean task of
> explaining reeds have been most helpful.
> About me: I am 23 and have been playing clarinet since I was 10. I’m
> using an Evette Schaffer (which I hope to replace very soon) with a Clark
> Fobes mouthpiece and Vandoren V12 #4 reeds. The reed/ligature/mouthpiece
> setup is comfortable, giving a clear sound from low E up to double C.
> Though admittedly, the upper altissimo notes are much better when I can
> set myself for playing just that note (i.e. a significant change in
> embouchure). Which brings me to my question.
> I’m writing to ask for advice on making large jumps from lower notes to
> the altissimo range. The Copland concerto is filled with these jumps.
> Currently, I can make the jump up, but it is marred either by the clarinet
> not speaking right away, or by the note sounding like it has been slammed
> out. I have asked advice from my current teacher, who has offered a
> couple alternate fingerings, but not much else. Any light you can shed on
> this would be greatly appreciated.
> ————————————————————————————–
> Hi Andres:
You note is provocative because it touches upon problems which are manifold,
: The Copland,(a problem all by itself) , and ease of playing in the high
register, the extreme high register.
I may have to take several sessions to give you whatever insights I may

First, do you know or are you aware of the original version of the Copland?
This is the one with the really high horrible notes which must be played
with fluency beyonf belief. I think that most play an easier version as far
the the altissimo is concerned(“Whilst reading Copland’s autobiography, he
was fascinated to find that there was an earlier, more complex version which
had been suppressed because the composer thought it would not be played by
reason of its technical challenge. This facet was written into the original
work because of the virtuosity of its dedicatee, Benny Goodman, and
listening to the tremendously exciting solo writing in this version, makes
me wish that this version had been available a lot sooner”.)

I listened to that first radio broadcast of the Copland with BG playing and
have remained flabbergasted by it since. The recording with Bernstein and
the first clarinet of the NY Phil is excellent and absolutely
accurate(Stanley Drucker).
You must compare them with your available score of the concerto.
It is extremely difficult from the aspect of ease and endurance first of
all. To be able to get through that whole first section with perfect breath
control and still have the strength for the rest is quite challenging.
S.Druckers vibrato is a bit disconcerting, but his control is very
impressive indeed.
Benny Goodman was my hero as a young player and I met and even coached he
and his daughter for a concert they played at the Gardner Museum in Boston
several thousand years ago.

Now, I have many things to do right at precent but your note provoked me to
write, and I will continue at a later time.
best to you.


Part 2

Hi again:
the high register, the altissima register has got to be taken as simply
another few notes on the instrument and certainly not with trepidation.

Do you know the little Ives trio for violin,clarinet and piano? There is a
piece upon which to start for it goes along in relative peace and quiet as
far as difficulty is concerned and then suddenly, there is that highest “b”,
and if you have not prepared carefully it will defeat you.
Now what does prepare carefully mean?
One has to approach these notes on the clarinet as one does the g on the
staff or even the open g.

When a very young player the open g is always the easiest but also the
ugliest note , always too sharp, never with a covered sound and in short, an
“open” note, in the same manner as an open string on the violin.

However one learns in many ways how to accomodate this note to make it even
with the notes around it and an acceptable note in ones scale on the

The g one octave up from the open g is another story entirely to the new
clarinetist, replete with ugliness and squeeks unheard of prior .

Again, one has to make this note part of the scale of the instrument.
Actually, you may have worked this way in achieving your control on the
instrument. I certainly did. I was asked to play the note I most liked on
the instrument, then to go in either direction and make all of the notes
sound with the same kind of sound and timbre as the first note, always in
legato. It can be quite difficult as you listen as learn about what you are
doing on the instrument. It gets more and more complicated as you add notes
because of the range of the instrument and one can easily lose sight of all
of the clarinet, as one frequently does in the altissimo register.
Of course it all gets even more complicated when you add the insurmountable,
the tongue, and even more complicated when that appendage is added to
altissimo notes.
Have you played L’histoire du soldat? That has a staccato passage difficult
for many players and it must be played perfectly, especially the attacks on
each note must be or sound equal.
The point is you must not call this high register by a special name as you
do, which makes it even more difficult, and you must add this altissima a
note at a time, up to an including the Copland.
Believe me, Benny played the thing as Copland wrote it, and he did not say
it was too high.
If you are ndeed serious this place on the top of the instrument should
become as easy as your very favorite. Harold Wright is one of the best of
the century,if not the best. When he played in that register it was always
beautiful, even and interestingly enough, he payed softly there and that is
something perhaps to remember. Larry Combs, not quite as good, but certainly
excellent. Drucker has an excellent Copland, if you can accept his vibrato,
but this fellow plays all the notes all of the time. I have that recording
and it never fails to be very impressive because of the endurance and the
quality of the whole first section into and including the cadenza.
So, there is no real secret.

Milton Babbitt, the composer once wrote in the New York Times that, “if a
pianist spent as much time learning a measure of new music as he did with a
measure of Chopin, new music would be much more played”
That goes for the complete clarinet and the complete clarinetist as well.
Good luck,
sherman freidland


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