What has changed since 1960 in clarinet performance

December 27, 2013

Dear Mr. Friedland
I hope you don’t mind me sending you my question via your email rather than through your website. I couldn’t get the email address for your website to work.

First of all I would like to thank you very much for your wonderful clarinet blog Clarinet Corner. This is full of fascinating and amusing stories, interesting anecdotes, very helpful advice and memoirs which bring to life the many amazing musical people that you have met and known through your longevity in music professionalism. Your Clarinet Corner has and remains to be a very valuable resource to me as a young clarinettist hoping to one day take music to a professional career.

My question concerns the clarinet playing that I have heard in recordings of well known clarinettists before 1960. Though my travels listening to clarinet recordings for inspiration and enjoyment I have stumbled across the playing of Louis Cahuzac, Jack Brymer and others. I have also listened to the videos of Gino Cioffi that you have posted. It seems to me that these clarinettists have a special liquidity and sweetness of tone and legato to their playing that is not found to the same degree in the playing of clarinettists today. I have also found that a similar sound is present in the playing of such jazz greats as Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw.

As a person who would have experienced first hand the playing of many of these artists I wondered whether you would be able to tell me whether this different quality of legato and of sound was actually present back in pre 1960’s clarinet playing, or whether it is a result of the recording process. It might even just be my ears misleading me.

Thank you very much for your time and consideration,

J. from Sydney

 Nothing has changed, even is we think it has.The letter is evocative because it reflects what has changed since 1960 in the realm of clarinet performance.  Perhaps the bggest change has been in recording, since we have gone through many technological advances in the process.

I remember vividly Benny Goodman coming to the first reharsal he had with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. It was around 1960 or so. The program was a typical POPS  style program and he was playing the Weber Concertino and the Debussy Rhapsody during the first half of the concert. We were to have only one rehearsal with the soloist and I had to play both works for the rehearsals prior to his appearance.
The seond half of he concert was devoted to POPS style pieces with Benny playing with a “pickup” group of local musicians. I have already recounted that part of the appearance, and as some will remember, he didn’t like the pianist at all, an   d, at one point said to me, “hey kid, he whispered. “Where can I get a good pianist”. He berated her for” trying to sound like Teddy Wllson” and then said to her, “a little pepper”. Anyway, you’ve heard that story. It’s here, somewhere.
What I want to mention which is pertinent is his sound. We played the concert in the Civic Auditorium of Milwaukee, which held 3500. He came out onstage and said, “playing here is like spitting in the ocean”. He played a few notes with the most beautiful sound I ever heard. (Yes, this was my idol), contained, round ,small and really present. He did not and would not force the sound, as if to “fill the hall”. Of course, I was impressed, but it was with utter indifference to the huge cavernous auditorium. He was in contriol of all his tonal facilities and knew to NOT force. That was my lesson. And it was a great lesson and  pertiinent to the current topic.
But, orchestras have changed and recording has changed exponentially. Some orchestras will use variable types of technics in recording, and others will just blast away. In simple words, they are attempting to have the presence of sound that is on the recordings that proliferate the industry. These electrically manufactured sounds are recorded in ways that make the recording of the clarinet solo as prevalent as it is in the hall.
But the clarinet never sounds exactly as does that nice recording you have in your home. It is slightly distant, exactly as it is when your hear it in the hall itself. Everyone has seen films of reording sessions: microphones all over the place. Sometimes, audiencechairs are removed and the players themselves are sitting in small groups of like instruments, covered by many microphones, and of course, you have all seen those “mixing boards”, loaded with hundreds of sliders, each of which can make you sound more present or not.
But, we hear moslty through recodings, which are readily available, rather than actual concerts, which are not.
When we do attend a live concert, we hear the players as they are in a hall, without the benefit of the enhancements possible in the studio.
Are we competing with our recorded sounds?
Most definitely; and we do it in different ways. There are many clarinetists and other solo woodwinds who simply play as loud as they can  all the time. Many do.
On the other hand, there was Harold Wright, and many others like him, who played what was written , regardless of the recording competition. He was able to get the entire section of the winds in the Boston Symphony to play the written dynamics, a special and unique time in the history of recorded music.
The clarinet can only be played as loudly as it can. After that, it begins to sound forced, and that is the dividing line. Some are conditioned to try to ply eveything they have as loludly and fuly as possible, producing very uneven results.
And this is what J from Sydney is asking about. A clarinet sound is as it was. Some simply play everything as loudly as they can. More do, than don’t.
stay well, and keep practcing with the most beautiful quality of which you are capable.
Stay well,

A response to the question of which C clarinet to buy

December 23, 2013

I bought my Amati C clarinet at a special price well below of what you have quoted here, perhaps around almost 600 dollars. At that time I t was simply a chance I took as I had never played C clarinet and I had 45 days in which to make my decision. It was a calculated risk, and the results have far exceeded my expectations as it has been a pleasure to play and an instrument upon which to perform.
Since the key layout has been questioned, I can say that is is as good as any clarinet I have played, all being placed correctly and an especially superior thumb rest, positioned exactly correctly and fully adjustable not just movable from one strange position to another, but well shaped, excellent placement of the place for the neckstrap should one use it, and beautifully silver plated keys, a very strong case and a usable mouthpiece. I don’t use that Amati mouthpiece, but I could, if necessary. I have really had laudable results with all of the Amati instruments I have played or owned, Along with the C, I have a full boehm Bb which is a very nice clarinet, in tune an well placed, as far as the keywork is conerned, easily as good as any other well made instrument.

In general, the C clarinet seems to me to be just a better setup, with better intonation and an especially nice response. By response, I mean sound. It has a better sound, more in tune and very pleasurable.

Sound and response are interesting words to express ones impression of his or her own sound. If a clarinet has a “good sound”, it loses all meaning and all personal feelings about sound, the clarinet being an inanimate instrument. It just lays there, mute and unfeeling. But, when we play the instrument, it responds to us . and response is what sound is all about. The horn is but a part of the sound and it can be made to sound many different ways, depending upon the discipline of the player. The player and the instrument combine to make the response, making it a mutual endeavor, thus totally interdependent.

You ask about the tone quality, and my response is very characteristic, a better rounder quality than the Bb.

Concerning tuning of the Amati, in general, it is excellent, the altissimo being somewhat of a problem which is also a function of the player, and their embouchure, and of course, their ear, and their ability to change the pitch by voicing, a partial function of the throat, the support and fingering.

My Amati has been totally reliable, staying in adjustment always. The company is very large ; it just does not advertise that much in the US. The instruments made are just as consistent as is any mass produced clarinet.

But wooden instruments are totally different than those made of hard rubber, which are basically much easier to machine for correct sound and intonation than is wood. All of the Ridenour clarinets are better in tune than all others because the designer has a better ear than almost anyone in the business and he knows how to use his uncanny ear and knowledge of the clarinet and its tuning.

I have played and performed on the Ridenour A and Bb clarinets and have found the intonation to be superior to any clarinet made. The wooden clarinets are just not as tunable as is the Ridenour instrument made from hard rubber. Period. Tom says his best designed clarinet is his instrument in C. Take him at his word and his reputation.

stay well, and have happy holidays.


“Which C clarinet to buy”?

December 20, 2013


GM, retired ,in Florida

I’m interested in purchasing a C clarinet. I read a couple of your posts about the Amati “C” clarinet which also made passing reference to the Ridenour.

After reviewing a couple dozen sites that discussed one or the other of these two brands of C clarinets, I have learned the following:

Amati seems to be a good buy in its price range ($849 at most places today) but is accused of being extremely sharp at altissimo D, E F, to the extent of requiring alternate fingerings. One lady in Australia said she corrected (most) of that problem with the purchase of a Buckun Fat Boy barrel (another $250).

That brings the Amati up to $1,100.

What I read about the Ridenour 570c listing at $1,195 (I assume that is the newest model – older ones are the 146 and 147c which sell for $899 some places) give the impression that the intonation is a bit better than the Amati, but still 10 to 15 cents off on a few notes.

So, that leaves a good apples to apples equivalency, price wise. Between these two instruments, what would be your recommendation for a 67 year old guy who plays his Buffet R-13 (love it – great intonation and nice tone using 5RV Lyre and a Fobes barrel) in several local groups (grade 3 not much stress, but 4 to 5 requires some pain), but wanting a “C” for church and occasional orchestral use.

Is there much difference in tone quality?
Is there much difference in intonation?
Is there much difference in key layout and playability?

How difficult are intonation problems to correct via available technicians short of going to a 1 in a thousand expert tweaker?

Thank you for your experience and expertise on these matters and especially your continuing passion for helping us novices.

This is an evocative letter and problem, and I will respond in the coming days.

Stay well, all, and the very best Christmas.


The origins of that Gliss.

December 16, 2013

One supposes that everyone who plays the clarinet, as well as many music lovers, know the glissando that begins the Rhapsody in Blue, Gershwin’s 1924 Masterpiece. I may receive more letters and questions concerning that gliss than many other clarinet issues. (elsewhere within these pages there is a link to the actual first recording by the Paul Whiteman Band . You can hear it right now, if you wish.) There are several different stories concerning those first performances. First, and probably foremost, is that it was never written as a glissando, simply (in the original score, by Ferde Grofe, who was the composer of the Grand Canyon Suite and many other works , which incidentally , also features the clarinet), it was written as a trill followed by 17 notes which culminate in the high C. In yet another entry, I call it the longest agogic accent ever written, and, indeed, it may be. The first part of a story is that the clarinetist who played the first performance was Ross Gorman, a member of the Whiteman band. Part A of the story is that Mr. Gorman had had a libation or two prior and made a joke of the scale, turning it into a glissando with the several following descending notes into a laugh-like joke. It was not written into the part. Never. Currently, it is performed in many different ways, but the correct way, that is to say,the way it is on the original recording, is an actual glissando fromthe D below the staff, all the way to the C. There is only one current recording which has it in this manner, for as you know, it is difficult to make a glissando cross the so-called “break ” in the clarinet. That recording is with the Boston Pops Orchestra, conducted by Arthur Fiedler, the clarinetist being named as Pasquale Cardillo, who was second clarinet in the Boston Symphony and principal in the Pops. It is a beautiful actual glissando, and was made on a Selmer (probably Centered Tone Clarinet), played by all members of the synphony and the Pops at the time. (of course, with the replacement of Gino Cioffi by Harold Wright, the clarinet was changed , along with the player, perhaps the most musical clarinetist then alive).

to be continued

The Festival, the Glory, and the Bagpiper

December 7, 2013

The last competition I adjudicated was a candid shot of the entire industry of Music Education  in the US and Canada, and a polite commentary on just why music is in the midst of collapsing, totally.

I was to judge woodwinds, vocalists, and one bagpiper. The mother of the bagpiper ws my partner and guide to the procedure. This person can only be characterized  by her job in life: making sure that her son came in first place She was successful, I was, less so.
First thing,  I went to the wrong Church, taking about an extra half hour to relocate, find my room, and meet my partner. I could see  the gleam in her eye. It was as if this was her entrance into the world of big lights, bigger money, CBS, NBC, chauffeured limosines, , in short, big time show biz..
I heard flutes, saxophones,several vocalists, a small vocal group, and yes, the bagpiper.
One thinks of the hours and years of practicing, the long road to questionable success, the gorgeous pleasure of playing hundreds of concerts of chamber music, 400 people at an audition, writing hundreds, perhaps thousands of letters of application, scanning all of the trade papers for any possible position, the multitude of different instruments, setups of all kinds, the interminable search for reeds, the many joys, the sorrow at seeing your friends not getting work, the diminution of the symphony orchestras. The fiendish competition, the joy, and the sorrows, and the wonder of music , which somehow makes everything worth it.
And then, suddenly you are back to judge these children , none of whom who has a clue, and even fewer  who know what “it” is supposed to sound like.
You are momentarily a terrible snob. You think, who am I to feel superior to these poor kids? And then, there is the Bagpiper.
This is the state of music and the music business. You see and experience the abundant failures and breakdowns , the few incredible successes. But more, you understand and appreciate how lucky you’ve been.
And then, right there, you see the bagpiper. You see the glint in his mother eyes, the useless ambition, the smell of winning this two-bit festival, and the inevitable march to something less.
Stay well, and regardless, keep practicing.