Clarinet, with the reed on top?

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.



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