Trends, brand names ; recent clarinet History.

Part One

While reading some of the comments from many of you concerning different brand names of clarinets,their various scales and other idiosyncracies I am reminded of my own experiences in the business of playing and teaching this lovely instrument for the past half century. Being somewhat a product of the New England Conservatory and Boston University during the 50s and 60s, the instrument to have and to aspire to and to own, was the Selmer Clarinet. Of course, times have changed, especially in Boston with first, the replacement of Gino Cioffi with Harold Wright, his passing and the evolution of the particular changing clarinetists in the Boston Symphony, the clarinet of choice in that city has changed to Buffet. Wright played Buffet and that seemed to become to be the trend in Boston.

Upon being discharged from the 4th Army Band in which I had enlisted,I returned to Boston, purchasing a setof Buffets. Then, upon purveying the performance jobs there, I was told that the only person with whom to study was the Principal in the orchestra, Gino Cioffi. I went and studied with Cioffi with my Buffets and he engaged in a year long sales campaign to get me to play his Selmer Bore 55, which was a full boehm, minus the low Eb. Cioffi, as I have written, was a marvelous clarinetist speaking little English but possessing absolutely the most facile technic I had ever heard .

Everything that he played sounded absolutely effortless. Most of his students odolized him. “Go-fors” were in abundance and all played the Selmer Model 55.Since the entire section of the Boston Symphony played Selmer, so went the entire city of clarinet students. There was no discussion and little help with any other clarinet.
Following a rather empty year of clarinet and instrument insurance sales, (yes, Gino sold both) The famous “hold up’a’your hand” story, promising a custom-made clarinet appears in one of the many Cioffi stories contained herein. It would have been funny, in retrospect it is giggly, perhaps a bit tragic.

His replacement by Harold Wright turned Boston and the Boston Symphony and the clarinet students on their ears. Wright had been a student of Ralph Maclane of the Philadelphia orchestra and a consummate performer, especially as to musicality and instinct. Richard Dyer , critic of the Boston Globe said of him“Although Harold Wright is a consummate virtuoso of the clarinet, you don’t so much listen to him as overhear him as he steals sound from silence; drawing us into a volatile private world of thought, feeling and dream.”

This is an accurate description of the quality he brought to the clarinet and to the woodwind section of the BSO. He also played the actual dynamics which were written in his part, carrying along the entire section with him. He was the most musical clarinetists ever heard and for 23 years was the glittering jewel in that woodwind section. And ,because he happened to play on another brand of clarinet, he carried his students along with him, and most every student in the area played Buffet. Wright had a very subtle degree of spirituality and gret intelligence and honesty in his playing. He happened to play a particular kind of clarinet, brand. But, he would have had the same quality on any instrument he chose to play. It was not the brand name of the clarinet that he happened to play, it was his interpretation of the music, the quality of sound was always that of a fine and sensitive musician.

The sound created by Gino Cioffi was all about Gino Cioffi, and it was very beautiful, however his musical parameters were quite narrow by comparison. It was always beautifully played and sounded that way, except when he played flat , which was sporadic, though quite noticable. This was Boston, and the pitch there was sharp in those years.

end of part one

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