Neglected Masterpieces with Clarinets

May 29, 2013

“Do you have suggestions for inclusion on my concert”?. Usually pleasant sounding works of either French or US composers, a smattering of composers from everywhere, but sadly, one wonders about the very function of any kind of school recital, certainly one of which being the demonstration of increased knowledge of repertoire and especially important repertoire that serves the large purpose of widening the parameters of the performers experience. One sees and hears popular and/or pleasant sounding works designed to please an audience, while frequently avoiding works which are of great importance to the performer. If a work which is regarded as important to the repertoire of the clarinetist, in that it serves to instruct the performer, and, by extension, the audience ,of technics not usually presented, the work deserves inclusion on a serious concert.

One of the finest works within the repertoire of the clarinetist was composed 100 years ago in 1913, by one if the more impoitant composers of his time and Century, Alban Berg.
I speak of Vier Stucke,Opus 5 by Alban Berg, for Clarinet and Piano, composed exactly one hundred years ago.

There are two major works that illustrate 20th century performance practrices for the Clarinet, one being Pierrot Lunaire,Opus 21 by Arnold Schoenberg. (“Three times Seven Poems from Albert Giraud’s ‘Pierrot lunaire'”), commonly known simply as Pierrot Lunaire, Op. 21(“Moonstruck Pierrot” or “Pierrot in the Moonlight”), is a melodrama by Arnold Schoenberg. It is a setting of twenty-one selected poems from Otto Erich Hartleben’s German translation of Albert Giraud’s cycle of French poems of the same name.
The narrator (voice-type unspecified in the score, but traditionally performed by a soprano) delivers the poems in the Sprechstimme style. Schoenberg had previously used a combination of spoken text with instrumental accompaniment, called “melodrama”, and it was a genre much in vogue at the end of the nineteenth century.The work is atonal but does not use the twelve-tone technique that Schoenberg would devise eight years later.
This work, which dates from 1912 was composed For voice, piccolo, flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, violin, viola, cello, piano. The parts are divided in the following manner: Flute doubles on Piccolo, Clarinet doubles on Bass clarinet. For the clarinetist it is a superb exposure to the rigors of playing difficult 20th century repertoire and a challenge exists in the Bass Clarinet part, as the registration is extreme in some instances. Pierrot Lunaire is a big work, gigantic by comparison to the Four Pieces by Berg, requiring  multiple rehearsals, very complicated in composition and in performance. For me personally, the two works seemed the equivlent of an advanced degree.

Personally the opportunities to perform this work with Lukas Foss and all the others of the group called The Creative Associates was one of the most educative experiences . My mind was opened during those rehearsals and the subsequent performances. I had never really performed music with this most contemporary setting, and I learned more from Pierrot than almost any other music from the 20th Century. Brahms is Brtahms, And Weber is weber, and all the rest of it, but I found nothing to be like Pierrot Lunaire, or for that matter The Four Pieces for Clarinet and Piano, written during the same period by Alban Berg, who ws Schoenbergs student at the time. ActuallySchoenberg did not favor the Four Pieces by Berg and there was some disparaging comments by Schoenberg made to his student. The four Pieces were not performed until 1921, eight years later at the Verein.

Verein, for those who are not familiar with the word, was a private group of composers and performers who performed each others music. Music Critics were not allowed to attend.

The Society for Private Musical Performances was an organization founded inVienna in the Autumn of 1918 by Arnold Schoenberg with the intention of making carefully rehearsed and comprehensible performances of modern music  available to genuinely interested members of the musical public. In the three years between February 1919 and 5 December 1921 (when the Verein had to cease its activities due to Austrian hyperinflation), the organisation gave 353 performances of 154 works in a total of 117 concerts.
Circumstances permitting, concerts were given at the rate of one per week, with each programme consisting entirely of modern works. The range of music included was very wide, the ‘allowable’ composers not being confined to the ‘Schoenberg circle’ but drawn from all those who had (as he himself put it) a real face or name. During the Society’s first two years, in fact, Schoenberg did not allow any of his own music to be performed; instead, the programmes included works by Stravinsky, Bartók, Debussy, Ravel, Webern, Berg, and many others, including Busoni and Max Reger.
The players at these events were chosen from among the most gifted young musicians available, and each work was rehearsed intensively, either under Schoenberg himself or by a  Performance Director specifically appointed by him. Clarity and comprehensibility of the musical presentation was the over-riding aim, with audiences sometimes being permitted to hear ‘open rehearsals’, and complex works sometimes being played more than once in the same concert.
Only those who had joined the organisation were admitted to the events: the intention was to exclude ‘sensation-seeking’ members of the Viennese public (who would often attend concerts with the express intention of whistling derisively at ‘modern’ works by blowing across their house-keys) as well as keep out hostile critics who would attack such music in their publications: a sign displayed on the door – in the manner of a police notice – would state that   (‘Critics are forbidden entry’). Applause was not permitted after the performance of any work on the program.

In retrospect, one has to realize that the concerts performed at the Verein were very similar to the  inclinations of many composers and performers in todays world of music. How we all wish for enough rehearsals, with enough time to really and thoroughly learn the new works, or even the more standard works. In a long performance career, more time for rehearsal seems to be the most difficult  thing to achieve.

To be continued


Thumb rest ,additional solution for thumb or wrist fatigue

May 23, 2013

Being of a considerable age, and with what can only be called an abundance of professional experience, in every possible genre, I venture forth with the information that I have had both difficulties with my teeth and pain in both hands while playing. Teeth are a very special problem indeed because they vary as much as fingerprints and some of the problems of teeth and the clarinet have been discussed, at least on a partial basis. However, the problem of pain in both or in either hand, while discussed as far as possible illness within the hand, (deQuervains Synfrome), just plain inordinatnt fatigue have lead me to speak in more detail. These problems of discomfort in either or in both hands can occur at any time in ones development, but are usually easily fixed by an instructor with real clarinet saavy, or even better, by a medical doctor, but a special MD, one who is a woodwind player, clarinet, oboe or bassoon, or flute.. If not a hoddyist or an actual professional musician who is also an MD, you are barking up the wrong tree, or, to put it succinctly, you will be given vague unresponsive replies. Why? Because , unless you play, and I mean play in a serious manner, you cannot recommend technics, exercises or other varia for a young or an older player with pain in these appendages.
As stated earlier, I had had such difficulties, namely tendintitus in the right elbow, deQuairvains Syndrome, in the left hand, and nameless pain in my right hand. The neckstrap is a great addition to your repertoire of easement of discomfort or fatigue, but for many, the strap does not suffice, or is of minimal assistance.

offer , a possible introduction to something else, a new way to distrbute the weight of the clarinet on the right thumb, and for some a possible real solution. I mention a real solution because instead of holding the clarinet on the first joint of the  right thumb, you hold it on the second joint of the thumb,closer to the wrist a point which ca


n easily hold more weight, transferring the weight to a stronger part of the wrist.
This is the so-called Etude, or Etude 2 thumbrest offered by Tan Koiman. There is also a more complicated version, with many more possible adjustments, but for now, let us picture and discuss the first of the possibilitiies, the Etude 2, pictured here.( to be continued) What is of considerable interest is that the devise can be self-installed in exactly the same two drilled holes of your current thumb rest, and with the packaging of the Etude comes a plate with four or 5 slightly different positions at which you may wish to install the thumb rest. This is an immediate interest from the standpoint of flexibility

Upcoming. I will be installing this device on a clarinet, as per the instructions, and subsequently be testing it and reporting on all procedures. With the proliferation of both the awareness of fatigue in the hands, and the various neckstraps, thunb rests of all shapes and sizes, this may be a possible solution. If you will put your index finger on the first joint of the thumb, and then the inner joint, there is much more apparent strength in the latter. If the clarinet can be held and played flexibly with this device it may be worth ones while to consider. Stay tuned. (pun, sorry)

stay well.



Clarinet, with the reed on top?

May 5, 2013

Labanchi-Metodo(scroll through the “labanchi-metodo’, and you will come to the actual method . Continue to scroll and you will see the drawing of the performer with the clarinet mouthpiece turned upside down.(Labanchi lived from 1829-1908)

Many years past, emerging  from the US Army I came back to my home in Boston. As many servicemen, All that filled my head were the opportunities awaiting returning servicemen.. It was in retrospect, foolish, because allthough apparent, benefits were not the issue, certainly not the quest. The importance lay solely in the future, and in my case, the clarinet. There were veterans benefits at the time which included money per month for a period of several years in order to attend University; there were bonuses for serving in the Korean Conflict, from the state of Massachusetts, and there was my brother, who was teaching at Boston University. This too was a benefit as I could attend for half tuition because of our relationship, and so, the choice to this myopic young man , was to attend BU as it was and is called. I enrolled there, and was assigned Gino Cioffi, principal clarinet of the Boston Symphony , as my teacher. I had heard many things about him, his quality of sound and the heritage he had brought with him from Europe. Elsewhere in thise pages, I speak about him in very glowing terms, and certainly he was the most naturally gifted clarinetist I had heard. It could have been Symphony Hall in Boston, where his sound just kind of hung above the orchestra permeating every fibre of my ear and sensibility. One dear friend who played in the Boston Orchestra during those years , thought that it was the mouthpiece he played, which was crystal, and has proven itself again and again that it is a wonderful mouthpiece material not withstanding its ability to crack, chip and even pulverize as it hits the floor. I studied with Gino (all the students called their teachers by their first names, except for when attending a lesson, when it was always quite formal and correct.) for a year, more or less, and, while I loved the sound he made on the clarinet and the ease with which he produced that sound, I found the man much less impressive.

I heard and experienced much more about Cioffi as there were stories abounding throughout Boston. He had only recently been awarded the Principal position after Victor Polatcheck, the former principal clarinetist had retired. Polatschek was an excellent and correct player, however his sound was distinctly less sumptuous than that of Cioffi. He had also written several books of wonderful exercises for the clarinet, which are still is some usuage. Very musical studies, based upon orchestral repertoire passages, but then enlarged into etudes.( I played both books. They are beautiful.) Cioffi had come from Europe, and was a product of the Italian school of clarinet playing. The story went that he came over to the US wearing a huge winter overcoat, its front pockets each carrying a clarinet. Before comingto Bioston, he had played for the best conductors, including Toscanini, and Reiner, and always Principal. He was also supposedly the clarinetist on most of the cartoons which were made at the time. Probably all clarinetists have heard all of thise Tom and Jerry cartoons and all of the others. I was told that they were recordein New York and that Cioffi was the clarinetist. Some say it was Mitchell Lurie, but more   say Cioffi. As we all recall, the clarinet playng was more than impressive.

I continued to delve into his background and came upon the most curiously interesting fact of all, and that was ,that Gino had been taught and played for years with the reed on top of the mouthpiece. At the time, it was shocking and difficult to believe, simply because his playing was the most effortless I had heard and he certainly played with the reed under the mouthpiece as was the norm.
Evidence of a “golden age” of reed-above playing can be found in 19th century Neapolitan players, including Ferdinando Sebastiani and Gaetano Labanchi. playing at the San Carlo Theater and the Conservatory of San Pietro. I know of the work of Labanchi as Cioffi had me work from one of his etude books. now, out of print except for the imprint found in this article, which clearly shows Labanchi playing with the reed on the top of the mouthpiece, rather than the presently accepted way. They both claimed that by employing the reed-above embouchure, one increased the types of colorings of articulation, whic gave the clarinet its beauty, and Labanchi stated tht this method allowed for a more precise staccato. In his own clarinet method, Ferdinando Busoni, father of the pianist and composer Ferrrucio Busoni(do you know his “Elegy”? I played it), Ferdinando remained convinced that the reed-abve embouchure assisted in obtaining a mellow timbre, pure intonation, flexibility and delicacy of nuance. Just as the position of the reed was not standardized, there are different opinions regarding the use of the throat, chest and tongued articulation as a means of reed-above articulation. Just a few years later, Klose regarded the reed-below embouchure as advantageous for three reasons. The tone was softer and more agreeable, the position of the tongue under the reed allowed the played to better articulate, and the overall appearance of the player was more graceful, allowing for greater powers of execution with much less effort.

Going back to the sound and abilities of Cioffi to articulate with great delicacy and accuracy and with great speed, was his earlier training with the reed on the top of the mouthpiece as addition to his abilities
as a performer, known for ease and beauty of sound and precise and most beautiful pinpoint accuracy? Certainly, much of the above is opinion, historical opinion, and my own , as well. Consider being presented with a clarinet and told to play with the reed against the upper lip. Consider progressive lessons an development in this manner.Consider Giuno Cioffi , a mature clarinetist having learned with this method, and then switching the mouthpiece around.Certainly , many aspects of both methods of playing remain with the player. I remember that Cioffi took the smallest amount of reed into his mourh as I had ever seen, and certainly , he played only double lip embouchure. Certainly all of those were factors in his formation.

In conclusion, do, or do  not, even try putting the reed on top, and turning the mouthpiece around.On second thought, in consideration of the past and the excellen t players who play or payed differently, give it a try. Give everything a try. But, if you have ever considered double lip embouchure, consider it again, and give it a try.

Stay well, and keep practicicng.