LL or Symphony Leblanc?

October 25, 2010

Dear Mr. Friedland

I’ve got two long-dormant Leblanc clarinets, an LL and a Symphonie model. Other than needing new pads and re-corking, these horns are in decent shape. I only want one fixed at this time.

I’d appreciate your opinion on which clarinet you would want to play.

Sincerely, Gary

HI Gary:
Actually, my experience has shown me that there is little difference between the Symphony model and the LL, or 1176. I prefer the LL by far and have owned several, all of which are a cut above the Symphony model in my opinion.
Both are excellent instruments, very unlike their reputation, largely disparaged by other clarinet manufacturers. Te LL is the top of the line, both in reports and in my findings, and they are more rare to find and costly. As I mentioned, the LL I own is probably my best clarinet.
The only thing one has to watch for, is a rebored instrument, many of which were wrecked by the Leblanc co. in Racine, WI . The idea was to enlarge the bore which supposedly made for a bigger sound. But it did not, and frequently destroyed the quality of the intonation.
You can tell if the inside of your bore is scarred and rough, for very frequently, the incorrect tool was used.

Best wishes,
sherman friedland

Berlioz and the Clarinet

October 24, 2010

Clarinet in C by Bouchman, Annonay, France, ca. 1825. A lovely instrument in excellent condition by a little-known maker working in a small town near Lyon in the south of France, where instrument-making was actively pursued in the 19th century. Built of boxwood with ivory ferrules, it has seven keys. The round key flaps to which the pads are glued are curved to conform with the curvature of the body, a unique feature not normally seen that gives the instrument an unusually sleek appearance. A metal tuning slide on the inside of the bore, between the barrel and the top joint, became a feature that was widely used well into the 20th century, but often causes the barrel to crack, as the wood shrinks. Ex coll.: William J. Maynard, New York. Board of Trustees, 1996.

The above could have been the kind of instrument for which Berlioz composed.



“In an artist’s life one thunderclap sometimes follows swiftly on another … I had just had the successive revelations of Shakespeare and Weber. Now at another point on the horizon I saw the giant form of Beethoven rear up. The shock was almost as great as that of Shakespeare had been. Beethoven opened before me a new world of music, as Shakespeare had revealed a new universe of poetry.
Hector Berlioz
Berlioz (1803-69) said this of Beethoven, and was deeply impressed by the Music of Beethoven, especially in the Symphonie Fantastique, written in about 1830, which follows the example of the Symphony #6 of Beethoven, both, because there are five movements in each and each have a program, a story, if you will.
Beethovens program for the pastoral was of the impression of the countryside, shepherds, a storm and quiet after the storm.
Similarly, Berlioz writes of the countryside, but also of a love, the love of his life, whom he meets, his advances spurned , pursues and finally marries. This was Harriet(sometimes) Henrietta Smithson, the Irish actress, with whom Berlioz had an incredible marriage(finally), and then saw die, but stayed loyal to her passing for years afterward, tending to her grave. But, while this was transpiring, Berlioz kept quite busy, marrying twice again.

In last nights performance of the Symphonie Fantastique, by Berlioz, all was not perfect, at least not for the principal clarinet, specifically in the long clarinet solo in the slow movement, Scene aux Champs. I’m sure that all clarinetists know this long solo in the slow movement, both for its legato demands, its breathing, and the one salient  point, the throat Bb, played in the legato passage twice, the second time in an ppp mode.
What was very interesting for me as a clarinetist , was the playing of this part on an Oehler Clarinet, which is the system of clarinets used in the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. They swear by these extremely well-made instruments, which are very costly, have a different fingering system, a different bore and require more air support
Very frequently, I am very pleased by the sound of these clarinets, their depth, and their heavier woody quality than the french boehm clarinet, which is used in most of the other European Orchestras.
But this performance last evening by the Berlin Orchestra was disappointing for me , especially in that particular solo. Each time it was played, the player used the easiest way of achieving that Bb, and both were unacceptable from the standpoint of sound. Why? Because he simply got over the two Bbs as easily as he could , detracting from the expressive possibilites and actually playing them faster than written. You may say, no big deal, but to any clarinetists aspiring to play this work in a fine orchestra, it is of great importance.
Now, as an aside, if I were playing this solo, on my Mazzeo full Boehm clarinet I would have played the Bb with the long Bb key, which works perfectly for two reasons: it simply fall directly under the fingers, and two, it is in context with the rest of the solo, and works expecially well, in the repeat of that measure in ppp. But , it must be remembered that this passage presents no problem with complete awareness of the demands.
I thought that this was a different player than usual, not the first Principal, but still, it was no excuse for the blip instead of the Bb.
Usually, when performing this work, all of the clarinets are used. The principal plays the C clarinet part on the Eb, instead of the second clarinet for whom it is written by Berlioz, but this time it was performed as written, by just two clarinets, the principal already mentioned, the second player playing the C part on the Eb. This is the most difficult to negotiate and the fellow who played the part was extraordinary, really great playing. If one has a chance to visit this performance in the archives, it is very well worth the visit, mostly because this is the way Berlioz conceived the parts.
Seeing and hearing this work has always been a party for me, more a theater piece than a symphony. There are so many unusual players,a couple of sets of tympani, four harps, for there are chromatics in the harp parts, specifically in La Bal, wherein the hero meets his beloved, his idee fixe at the Ball, and the ability of the harp to play chromatic notes was not yet invented. So,extra harps are there , tuned so that they could play the notes Berlioz wrote.
There are also the two great funeral bells which begin the last movement of the work, prior to the duet for two tubas of the Dies Irae, from the March for the dead. There are also for the first time, glissandi written for the flute and the oboe, usually left out, but played here in the Berlin performance.
Berlioz followed Beethovens plan of five movements, telling a story in the Pastoral, but Berlioz uses instead a program concerning a musician, totally infatuated by a lady, whose theme is repeated and is known as the Idee Fixe. This theme appears in all of the movements in different ways always symbolzing the beloved, as the hero sees her at Un Bal, kills her in March to the Scaffold(and is beheaded, a wonderful G major chord played in the full orchestra in applause of the beheading )and sees her again in the Dream of the Witches Sabbath, the final movement in which appears the Dies Irae frlm the Mass for the Dead, turning into a perfect fugue with different thematic entrances made in various instrumentlal guises. The idee fixe is another way of saying leit motiv. so frequently used by Wagner.
If there is anyone who does not know this work intimately, avail yourself of the opportunity.
Berlioz is not only extremely colorful as a personality , a critic of concerts , the writer of the best book on orchestration ever written, and Frances most famous composer of his time and possibly the entire history of music.

keep practicing, learn all the Berlioz solos.
stay well, sherman

International Incident in Berlin: of Joy!

October 10, 2010

I hope that all will have been introduced to the Concerts played by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, live and recorded, available in your home. This is truly as wonderful a series of concerts as are the HD concerts of Opera available at your local movie theater.
But, for now, let me also mention several other important facts: The Berlin Philharmonic is one of the greatest Orchestras. And the sound of the orchestra in their incredible hall is brought directly to you in a quality that I have never experienced, actually superb. Not only is it a truly wonderful orchestra, but its technical presentations seem peerless.
If you have not experienced this orchestra and their concerts, you must avail yourselves of this special gift, available in your home, through your own systems, now.
The Teresa Carreño Youth Orchestra with
Christian Vásquez and
Sir Simon Rattle

“However precarious the social situation in Venezuela may be, ever since the founding of the music education programme El Sistema, there is still reason for hope for young musicians. Children and young people, particularly those from poor backgrounds, come together in orchestras which are unique worldwide, and throw themselves wholeheartedly into the classical repertoire. You can see their outstanding abilities and passion for yourself this Monday when the Teresa Carreño Youth Orchestra performs in Berlin, in a concert which we are broadcasting free of charge in the Digital Concert Hall.

Sir Simon Rattle and the Berliner Philharmoniker have supported the Sistema, which was founded by José Antonio Abreu, for many years. After they brought the now internationally celebrated Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra and its conductor Gustavo Dudamel to Berlin two years ago, this year it is the turn of the Teresa Carreño Youth Orchestra, named in honour of the Venezuelan pianist and composer Teresa Carreño. The orchestra is made up of over 200 young musicians between the ages of 14 and 19.

Sir Simon Rattle himself takes up the baton in a performance of Sergei Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony.”

I saw and heard this performance during the free period in the 24 hour period after the actual concert. It took a few attempts before I was able to identify myself to the system, but the effort was well worth this totally joyous occasion.
The Prokofiev 5th symphony in Bb was composed  in Russia in 1944. “Prokofiev gave out in a statement at the time that he intended it as “a hymn to free and happy Man, to his mighty powers, his pure and noble spirit.” He added “I cannot say that I1 deliberately chose this theme. It was born in me and clamoured for expression. The music matured within me. It filled my soul”.

“While it was years ago, this synphony, with its brilliant solos for the clarinet, and indeed all of the woodwinds needs to be known by every clarinetist. Certainly, I have played this piece with its many starring solos for years, ever since high school. It has become my favorite ontemporary symphony.

So my impression of this group of young musicians knows no end in compliments. They were wonderful. The first clarinetist played all of the many solos wit great skill and preparation, as did all of the other woodwinds. This is a symphony of great difficulty, which makes its performance by a group of teenagers quite incredible. Unforgettable, for me.

So here is advice. Try to get to experience this Prokoviev 5th. If not by the orchestra above, then , by any orchestra.

Certainly, in 1944, it was able to lift Prokoviev to a great height in the midst of the worst part of the war.

It is an unforgettable work. And so too are the musicians of this great youth orchestra in Venezuela. There is nothing that compares to it anywhere, at least to my knowledge. Or perhaps my enthusiasm is just an expression of thanks.

Music, is what it is all about.

keep practicing,and stay well


Mozarts Notation in the Kegelstaat Trio. Was Mozart incorrect?

October 5, 2010
Along comes the Mozart Trio  K. 498  for Viola, Clarinet and Piano.
If you are the clarinetist, as most who read this will be, you are usually happy to receive the job, the assignment, the reasons being readily evident. Mostly, it is not a difficult part to play. It lies well within the reasonable tessatura of the clarinet, is a work full of lovely melody, and is not too difficult for any of the players.
The choices began to be made at the first rehearsal, these being, whose version of the 64th notes which appear throughout the first movement, will the others follow.
I remember once, when playing this piece with Les Malowiny, the late principal of the Montreal Symphony, concerning the work, he said, “well I always do it the way the clarinet player does it, meaning the clarinets method of executing the 64th notes. In many instances, the clarinet will start the Trio and proceed to play a simple turn on the 3rd beat of the measure. Certainly, this method will work every time, as long as the Viola and Piano follow suit, exactly. If so, depending upon the tempo chosen, it passes quite well if everyone follows suit and plays the 32nd notes as a turn on the 3rd beat of the measure.
The first problem occurs when one of the players decides to play it differently, faster or slower than a simple turn. This completely upsets the notation and the realization of the notation. And then right away, comes the answer to the first phrase. At the usual “in two” tempo, it becomes banal, ordinary, and a little too soon
mostly because at least one of the trio will be thinking of the piece in two beats to the bar, which it is not, at least according to the clarinetists version of playing the 64th notes as a turn on the third beat. Please take note: this is not what Mozart wrote
At this point there are two discrepancies: one the difference of opinion either instinctive or accidental of the 64th notes, and the arrival of the answering theme , coming too soon, almost childish in two beats.
Ok, so now the ensemble stops and discusses the execution of the group of 64th notes which appear throughout the  first movement.
There is the usually discussion which always goes into expressivo mode, meaning opinions that go something like, “well, I just feel it better faster, or slower, or as part of the following beat or the preceding beat, usually demonstrating, which is never agreed upon.
I have heard things like, “well, let’s just play it in a relaxed manner, or flowing or some such flowerization  of a verb, usually resulting in a three-way split decision.
The work, the first movement is not played exactly together. It never happens. Not only have I played this work dozens of times, but also listened to several recordings and they are all completely different, among each ensemble and within the performance itself.
This in itself is not terrible, but Mozart happens to have been very specific in his notation which is consistent throughout, They are 64th notes, nothing else.
When that decision is agreed upon, it never works, for the tempo is too fast, especially at two beats in each bar. The entrance of the answering phrase is almost trite.
It is not unusual to hear a performance performed with total inaccuracy, yet gotten through somehow. The question arises, “if it still sounds like Mozart, well, why not?”
This is simply not correct. What was not discussed is the exact tempo of the first movement. It does not work in a medium 2 beats to the bar. The melody is the same, but played a bit differently by each player.
It is not a question of how one groups the 64th notes but at what tempo the ensemble plays. The only correct tempo is to play the piece in 6 beats to the bar, and in a stately manner.
If you think of the beat taken at a mm 60, you will be correct,at least according to Mozart. If he wanted something else, at this point in his life he would have written it.
(At the end, when he was very sick, he was able to write only sketches of each of the movement of his Requiem. He was not able to finish the work, which was finished by a student, and not out of love, but so that Mozarts widow could collect the remainder of the fee.In that case, the Requiem is revered as Mozarts greatest work, though it was largely incomplete).
Let us go back to the Trio. The players  have tentatively agreed to the tempo of an eighth note taken at 60. The first thing that happens is disagreement from  at least one of the three players. “My God”! It’s too slow! It’s a slow movement!”
Yes, friends, it is.
You must resolve to give it at least one  reading at 60 for the beat for the first movement. Each player has to take great care of execution of both the 64th notes, and all of the other values. . Think of how long one beat is at 60 per minute. Do you make it shorter? or did the ensemble not hold it fully? It’s what makes this movement work.
You will find it more difficult to exercise this discipline in the ensemble, perhaps too difficult. But ,it is not. Your technic will be cleaner, as will your awareness. Now, let us go on.
After the first movement with its stately pace, the second , which is a minuet and trio will be in contrast to the first. Contrast is why a second movement is written. You will now have a contrasting second movement instead of two movements of approximately the same tempo.
There is yet another point to be made in this second movement. The two themes of the trio of the movement are shared by the clarinet and the viola. The clarinet theme is legato and piano, just three notes. The viola answers in direct contrast, playing a forceful group of triplets. The two distinct themes are spoken of by Mozart in a letter to his father  concerning the feminine nature of the clarinet. While the comments were made concerning the Mannheim Orchestra, clearly it was an idea incorporated into the trio of the second movement.
And in the last movement, this feature is turned around with the clarinet interrupting the little trio of the final movement with a line of gleeful triplets.
The only real problem in this movement is the passages of 16th notes, almost always rushed by the pianist. This is the transparency of Mozart to be experienced again and again in his works for the piano.
Finally, the reason that few play the first movement at a stately tempo is that it  is quite difficult, to taper the phrases, to lengthen the ends of phrases properly and, to let the movement breathe. It’s simply much easier to just toss it off, and….that is the way it almost always sounds.
An acquaintance wrote to me the other day, stating that at a slow tempo the first movement is unforgettable. Perhaps he was being sarcastic, perhaps not. Try it at Mozarts tempo. If not, then why in the world did Mozart write out each and every group of 64th notes?
keep practicing,