The sound of the clarinet really can be traced to L. Cahuzac , 1880-1960

Louis Cahuzac,(1880-1960) lived to be 80 and was an active player for most of that span. Below is a recording he made of his own work in 1930: His clarinet sound is usually called the epitome of the French Clarinet Sound, among its facets, extreme liquidity or fluidity, and agility of all aspects of both tone and technical faciity. While there needed to be much knowledge gained in the realm of recording piano, the clarinet sound is just about perfect in all its expressivity, timbral qualities and intonation. We usually think of his sound , and others as well: Hamelin, Maclane, Bonade, and their students, continuing until Marcellus, whose tone was less bright, perhaps more substantive, usually thought of as the beginning of the amalgation of the so-called German school of clarinet sound with that of the French. Toward this end, Marcellus it is said, used a reed with a different cut, a thicker blank, most probably a more resistant reed, yet some seem to have wished for a more expressive qality of sound, less objective, but for others this is the sound of which they prefer and for which they strive Actually ,upon listenig one hears more of a penetrating sound with Mr. Marcellus, whose technic and staccato was flawless.. Harold Wright really did not deviate much from that of Cahuzac, again more substantive, but with really superb facility and all-over control. He was one of the few contemporary orchestral clarinetists who played the actualy dynamics as they were written. Forte was forte and pianissimo and piano were his stringest points. Truly he believed and advocated never to push the sound, to distort. So while he played until relatively recently he escaped the emergence of the loudness of todays American orchestras, specifically the Chicago Symphony, whose principal Larry Combs, was really a deep admirer of the soud of Wright. His excellent control is demonstrated on this recent performance of the difficult 3rd movement solis of the Tchaikovsky #4.

Antony Pay from the UK is also of the more musical of clarinetists. His recording of the Mozart Quintet featured here is certainly the most imaginative and with superb ideas as to tempi and phrasing and his sound is exemplary. While not basically an orchestral clarinetist, he respresents the best and most thoughtful of the so-called English School. The only question one may have are the execution of his appoggiatured trills in the first movement, beautiful, though not consistent in that he plays the first  trill in the development without an appoggiatura.All others are executed with really excellent appogiaturas from the note above, accented and correct. One wonders why this single trill Ab-Bb is played without the appoddiatura? Still he is certainly representative of the so-called English school and tone quality.

Has the sound of the clarinet changed much since Combs and the others mentioned herein?(and there are excellent players, but these are the choices by this writer) I think not, however the advent of recorded symphonic music being so artificially conceived as having brough much louder clarinet playing to the fore. (for example, purchasing a recording, listening to the orchestra and going to an actually concert are different experiences. “How come I can hardly hear that clarinet solo?” Because it was recorded by a single microphone directly in front of the player and then mixed with great care so as to give it prominence on the recording; completely different from hearing the player in the orchestra at a concert. This has created a competition between a player and his recordings because the recordings are so much clearer than what the listener hears in the hall. Now has this competition made its impression upon younger clarinetists?Yes, it has; witness the playing of Mr.Morales who can, when he wishes, cut through any orchestra. The playing of Karl Leister, whom I remember as the Principal of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra must also be noted for his excellence. The sound he made seems perhaps a bit more present, yet for me, I prefer a more even quality. I think the Barber included here, shows that rather thicker, (for want of a better word) quality, than that of the French. Still however, very imressive playing, perhaps a reflection of the German clarinet and mouthpiece and reed,perhaps not.

Gino Cioffi, another principal player of the Boston Symphony should be mentioned here because he too embodied that basic fluidity of the clarinet. It is interesting to note that all of these players recorded in beautiful acoustic chambers, either Orchestra Hall on Chicago or Symphony Hall in Boston.

But the sound of the clarinet was really conceived by Mr. Cahuzac and those of his ilk, and has not strayed all that far, that is to say, with that wondeful fluidity which is so much a part of the sound of the clarinet.

Of course, one can make the point that this reflect bias ;  that there were and are many players who were a part of the evolution of the sound of the clarinet, and to those, I will agree, however there is not that much deviation from the sound of Cahuzac made in 1930.

Keep practicing.


Louis Cahuzac:

Gino Cioffi:

Antony Pay

Harold Wright:

Larry Combs:

Karl Leister

Barber, “Summer Music” for woodwind Quiintet


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