Schools of Clarinet: French,German,English, Italian

Dear Mr. Friedland,
I’m a college freshman clarinet major and have really enjoyed
visiting your website over the years. Your advice is very helpful,
interesting and entertaining. My question has to do with the different
schools of clarinet playing. I’ve heard that there’s the German school, the
French school, the British school and the American school. Can you explain
the characteristics of each school? I own recordings of Daniel Bonade, Ralph
McLane, Robert Marcellus, Harold Wright, Tom Martin, Ricardo Morales, and
David Shifrin and do my best to emulate their sound. Are all these
clarinetists considered to be in the American school? I’m very concerned
with developing the right sound to (hopefully) get into an American
orchestra/military band some day. (I’m playing on buffet R13s with a Hawkins
mouthpiece). What sound are orchestras looking for nowadays? Hope my
question makes sense, and thanks again for your website!
Hi Miss KK:
Thank you for your letter and for looking at this site all these years.
This particular question is of great interest to many clarinetists and has been a particular interst of mine for many years. I gues it is like trying to find out where one comes from in the sense of style, but more from the standpoint of timbre, quality of sound.
The American School as it may be called grew out of the French school because many French players were imported to the US to play in orchestras, among the first being Daniel Bonade and Gaston Hamelin, Bonade being really the “source” as many are fond of saying. This means nothing until you hear him play, and you can do so on an entire CD of his work culled from recording of the various orchestras in which he played. There is on that recording one “cut” which stands out above all of the other because of its quality of sound, the tuning and the musicality. It is the short segment for three clarinets playing the Bach Chorale “It is Enough” durng the Berg Violin Concerto,(the only tonal section of this dodecaphonic work) recorded years ago yet some of the most perfect clarinet playing one will hear. And of course, the wonderful Harold Wright studied with Hamelin, another great frech player. Just about all of the American players studied with one or the other of these or students of them, such as Ignatius Gennusa, Principal of the Baltimore Orchestra. Characteristics are clarity, accuracy,reserved correctness
There is of course Gino Cioffi, principal of Boston for his last performing years, of Italian origin and one of the most talented clarinetists I have ever heard or studied with.I still remember his sound and it was really better than anyones. He told me (and dozens of others) many times that “When ama play good, its a justa like Jesus Christ. When ama play bad , its still better than anybody else!” Cioffo would have to be called a school unto his own, although he was Italian and actually played with the mouthpiece upside down with the reed on the top when he first came to the US. Characterisics of Ginos Sound: sheer ethereal beauty
The German School was owned for many years by Karl Leister, principal of the Berlin Phuilharmonic, and his chair and place (perhaps) was inherited by Sabine Mayer. The dimensions and characteristics of the German sound is a very carefully concentrated sound, superbly nuanced and very precise, capable of great dynamic range.
The British School as you have called it is perhaps the most interesting and certainly the most effusively musical school of all. I think that Reginald Kell was the driving force there with people like Jack Brymer, Gervaise de Payer and Anthony Pay also being in the group.They play beautifully, and many play on a clarinet with a larger bore than the Americans do, who play mostly French style clarinets. Reginald Kell was invited by Arturo Toscanini to play principal clarinet with the NBC symphony, but he turned the offer down. It would be interesting to contemplate the american school in the context of Reginald Kell, another wonderfully original player.
But now with todays communication and recodings the sounds of the various “schools” as you call them is beginning to meld all into one. The important thing is musicality, sensitivity to the phrase , extreme accuracy with rhythm and intonation and a rich historical sense when you play.
These attributes will certainly earn you a place within an American Orchestra/Band, and of course, you must play better than the others who come to the audition. Competition, the ability to rise above same is perhaps the most crucial characteristic
Stay well,and play well.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: